January 3, 2008

REVIEW: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (A)

Background: Painter/Director Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, Before Night Falls) once again uses a true story as his inspiration for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, which was adapted by Ronald Harwood (Love in the Time of Cholera, The Pianist), whose screenplay was fortunately translated to French by Schnabel before filming. The source material was the book by the same name written 10 years ago by Jean-Dominique Bauby - one letter at a time, using only his eyelid. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was filmed on location in France and stars Mathieu Amalric (Munich), Marie-Josee Croze (Munich), and Max von Sydow (The Exorcist, Rush Hour 3 !?). Apparently Johnny Depp was originally lined up to play Bauby, which would have been outstandingly awful.

Synopsis: Frenchman Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric) is a charming man-about-town and the editor of "ELLE" magazine when he suffers a massive stroke at age 43. Consequently, he suffers from "locked-in" syndrome - he can hear, see, and understand everything around him, but he is completely paralyzed and cannot speak. We meet him as he is awakening from the coma and struggle with him as learns how to communicate, blinking one eyelid for a specific letter as the alphabet is recited to him by speech pathologist Henriette Durand (Croze). Almost the entire experience is through Bauby's eyes, so much so that we don't even see his face until halfway through the movie. Eventually he comes to grips with his disability and reconnects with his family and friends. He decides to write a book about his experience in his "diving bell," and develops a loving relationship with his muse and scribe Claude (Anne Consigny), who copies his "dictation." The story has a predictable ending, but it's true life, so what can you expect. It's quite a story, to say the least.

I Loved:
+ The beautiful and artistic cinematography, use of light, use of point-of-view perspective, etc.
+ Mathieu Almaric - wow. Despite not having many traditional speaking scenes, he completely inhabits the character with his non-verbal acting.

I Liked:
+ Marie-Josee Croze. She looks so familiar, but I think it's because she's the doppelganger of Naomi Watts.

I Disliked:
- Not knowing just a little more about Bauby's earlier life.
- The first scenes, only because they were so visually uncomfortable for me.

I Hated:
- "Rien." (I just looked that up, it should mean "nothing" in French.)

Writing - 10
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 47/50= 94% = A

Last Word: More than any movie I've seen in recent memory, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gave me the most intense perspective as to how life is lived with a disability as severe as "locked-in" syndrome. Along with a powerful story, superb acting, subtle comedy, and vivid cinematography, you have an excellent all-around film. It's the kind of movie that so many people should see, but so few probably will. Although I was inspired and moved by the reality of the story, I wasn't really shaken with emotion. Maybe I was visually distracted, I don't know, but knowing me I would have expected to cry quite a bit, and I didn't at all. Most likely I've just seen the "triumph over disability" story before, but I can nevertheless appreciate the importance in that catalog of films. Schnabel has masterfully created a sad yet uplifting, artistic human interest drama, and the final canvas looks beautiful. In a year with weaker competition, this would likely earn a Best Picture nomination.

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