Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (FRENCH)

(Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)
Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Bittersweet Bio-Pic Based on the Memoir of Paralyzed Stroke Victim

On December 9, 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952-1997) suffered a massive stroke which left him in a coma for three weeks. When he regained consciousness, he was completely paralyzed except for being able to blink his left eye, a condition diagnosed as locked-in syndrome.
At the time of the devastating disaster, the freewheeling 43 year-old (played by Mathieu Amalric) had been the editor-in-chief of the French edition of Elle Magazine and something of a bon vivant. He had also abandoned his common-law wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and three kids for the arms of a mistress (Agatha de la Fontaine) who would have no interest in visiting him in the hospital after his accident.
As conveyed from his point of view from behind his one good eye, we hear the inner monologue of a scared soul who’d quite frankly rather be dead than remain feeling trapped inside a useless body. He hates the prospect of being thought of as a vegetable and resents it when his doctor (Patrick Chesnais) sews his right eyelid shut without asking his permission.
So, it’s no surprise, then, that this unfortunate soul would soon be consumed by both self pity and overwhelming regret. This is the dire point of departure of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a bittersweet bio-pic based on Bauby’s inspirational memoir of the same name.
Yes, you read correctly, memoir, for, with the support of very dedicated physical (Olatz Lopez Garmendia) and speech (Marie-Josee Croze) therapists, and the encouragement of Claude (Anne Consigny), the woman who dutifully recorded his dictation, he was helped to transcend his seemingly hopelessly straits and to write a best selling book about his feelings and fantasies. He resumed this communication with the outside world by means of a tie-consuming blinking system of spelling out words, letter by letter.
To convey Bauby’s mental metamorphosis cinematically, the movie cleverly widens its visual perspective from narrowly reflecting his physical limitations to one allowing for an assortment of conventional camera angles. By first relying on the restrictive cinematic device director Julian Schnabel that more effectively conveys the contrasting feelings of the protagonist post-transformation.
Recalled by life, and egged on by his support team, Jean-Dominique discovers that he still has access to cherished memories and a boundless imagination, and so he pours himself into the project with abandon. He lives just long enough to see the book published, as he passed away a few days after its release.
The Sea Inside meets My Left Foot.

Excellent (3.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexuality and some profanity.
In French and English with subtitles.
Running time: 112 minutes
Studio: Miramax Films

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Schnabel commented during a recent presentation of this film that Bauby's actual situation was reversed for the film: his mistress was the one who took care of him in the hospital, while his common-law "wife" (mother of his kids) never did. Bauby left this fact out of his book, however, and Schnabel wanted to respect his authorial choice...