THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Mathieu Amalric,
Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny, Max von Sydow
Director: Julian Schnabel
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: April 29, 2008
I once read where Roger Ebert interviewed an artist afflicted with polio. He was uncomfortable with being called ‘courageous’. He didn’t choose to have his disability, so what else could he do but do the best he could with the hand that was dealt him?
It’s a valid point, but in viewing a film like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, courage is the word that most frequently comes to mind, and even then, it seems feeble. Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric) didn’t choose his affliction either, but he accomplished a task many with sound bodies will never achieve, and the proof of that is the very existence of this movie.
Bauby was once the editor of Elle magazine, but a freak stroke left him with a rare condition doctors call “locked-in syndrome”. He was completely paralyzed except for his left eye. He couldn’t speak or swallow. But his mind remained sound.
Much of the picture takes place using his point of view, and from the opening shots showing him awakening from his coma and learning of his plight, we know we’re in for a most unusual experience. Director Julian Schnabel spends most of the film putting us in Bauby’s helpless position. We see what he sees, and more…we hear his thoughts as he comes to grips with what has happened to him.
With the aid of a speech therapist (Croze), his ex-wife (Seigner), and a patient scribe (Consigny), he learns how to select dictated letters of the alphabet with a blink of his eye, and sets about writing a book about his experience…the book that becomes the basis of this film. It’s difficult to imagine such a laborious task, but he accomplished it, and passed away just ten days after the book was published.
By getting inside the mind of Jean-Dominique, we do more than watch his story. We live it vicariously. To see this film is to understand the inner workings of a man who no longer has a body, but still has imagination and heart. His daydreams become his escape.
This is a beautiful, moving and unforgettable experience, and though technically an American production, has an authentic foreign feel from using French language, actors and locations. Mathieu Amalric is more than up to the difficult job of expressing a fully realized performance without relying on the tools most actors would be lost without.
But credit mostly the vision of Julian Schnabel, who brings us a story in a most imaginative and affecting way, and of course, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who turned affliction into miracle. That’s courage by any definition of the word.
This is a most interesting looking film, making strong use of event horizons and occasional visual interference to replicate the experience of Jean-Dominique’s point of view. Colors range from natural to deliberately cloudy, and images are crisp when necessary and soft when demanded.
Despite being a dialogue-driven film, a unique touch is how Jean-Dominique’s inner voice comes from the rear, creating even more an illusion of being trapped inside his mind. Dynamic range is minimal, but the clever use of surround technology is a definite boon.
The disc includes a commentary track from Julian Schnabel, a making-of featurette, a look at the cinematic style, and the Charlie Rose interview with Schnabel.
You won’t see many films as original, inspiring, moving and unforgettable as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. This amazing true story will touch your heart and fill your imagination with the possibilities of the wonders that dwell within us all.