Friday, July 6, 2012

996. Le scaphandre et le papillon/The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Julian Schnabel
Written By: Ronald Harwood
Main Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny, Marie-Josee Croze, Olatz Lopez Garmendia
Click here to view the trailer


Four to go until I reach the halfway mark of my journey and wouldn't you know, another TOP 20 contender rears it's head. I had high hopes for "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" and I love it when high hopes pay off.

The film tells the tragic, true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), the French editor of Elle magazine, who, while driving in his new convertible, with his son, suffered a stroke which left him entirely paralyzed, save for his left eyelid. The film opens with Bauby waking up from a three week coma, following his stroke and realizing that the doctor's can't hear him. Later, a specialist enters the room and tells him that his condition is very rare and is referred to as locked in syndrome. It refers to the fact that Bauby is able to understand everything that's going on around him, but unable to respond in the traditional way. A speech therapist, Henriette (Croze), establishes a way of communicating with Bauby, by reading him the letters of the alphabet in the frequency in which they're used. When he comes to the letter he wants, he blinks once for "yes" and when he gets the word he wants he blinks twice. In fact, Bauby's spirits would eventually lift and he'd spark an interest in writing a book, by using the blinking method. A patient dictation expert, Claude (Consigny), would be hired to read the alphabet to Bauby and write his words. The film is told through the use of erratic editing, taking us inside the mind of a man who is locked inside his own body. The film flashes back between Bauby now, paralyzed, wheel-chair bound and living in a hospital and Bauby then, the cocky, French fashion magazine editor, who left his wife and the mother of his children and took a mistress.

It's not surprising that "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" will make you appreciate your own mobility a little bit more. This film ran the gamut of emotions and feelings, for me anyway. Throughout the film, I witnessed sheer beauty, heartbreak, despair, tragedy, hopelessness and even triumph. The story of Jean-Dominique Bauby was meant to be portrayed on the big screen and it is my opinion that Julian Schnabel crafted it perfectly. The editing techniques that he used to tell the story of this man, who could only communicate through the use of his left eyelid, who made a lifetime worth of mistakes in half his life and who learned to appreciate and rely on his own imagination, fit this story to a tee and made for a dazzling sequence of images for the viewer's eye.

If I had my way, some things would've been done differently. I kind of wish they could've told the story without ever showing Bauby's face. I think it would've made for a more scary film, trapping the viewer inside Bauby's world and forcing them to see through his eyes for a couple of hours. Of course, that really wasn't possible and I completely understand why it couldn't be done, but still... When you're working with autobiographical material, it gets kind of tricky, because the filmmaker's have a certain allegiance to the source material. Otherwise, there were certain parts that I felt could've been dropped. The whole scene where Bauby remembers going to Lourdes with a former lover, her buying a statue sculpted by the cardinal and then the couple breaking up later that night, was almost pointless and was only used to show Bauby's one brush with religion, an otherwise non-religious person. The phone call from the mistress was kind of pointless too and put in at a position in the film, that made it feel like a mini climax, when really it was quite unnecessary. The relationship between Bauby and his father (played wonderfully by Max von Sydow) was much more important to me and could've been extended to replace the former scene. But all that is just a bit of griping on my part and none of it really weighs on my opinion of this beautiful, yet horrific film.

RATING: 8/10  Whether or not that rating will hold up in time for the TOP 20 remains to be seen. I've seen ninety-six movies now for this 100 and as I draw closer to list time, my opinions are fluctuating rapidly inside my own head.


July 6, 2012  4:59pm

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