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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Scaphandre et le papillon, Le)
4 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Julian Schnabel

Written By:
Ronald Harwood, Jean-Dominique Bauby

Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Niels Arestrup, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Max von Sydow, Isaach de Bankole, Emma de Caunes, Gérard Watkins, Anne Alvaro, Françoise Lebrun, Zinedine Soualem, Michael Wincott, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Marina Hands, Anne Consigny, Farida Khelfa, Lenny Kravitz, Patrick Chesnais, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Nicolas Le Riche, François Delaive, Agathe de La Fontaine, Franck Victor, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Théo Sampaio, Fiorella Campanella, Georges Roche, Yves-Marie Coppin, Virginie Delmotte, Daniel Lapostolle, Philippe Roux, François Filloux, Elvis Polanski, Cedric Brelet von Sydow, Sara Séguéla, Marie Meyer, Anna Chyzh, Antoine Bréant, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Talina Boyaci, Vasile Negru, Ilze Bajare, Azzedine Alaïa

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Scaphandre et le papillon, Le) (2007)
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Movie Review by Matthew
December 13th, 2007

Remarkably Powerful Film

Generally, films containing series of disassociative images, tons of POV shots and dream sequences are immediate turn-offs for me. I like my films to have stories and I like those stories to be linear. For the most part.

So, it is more than a little surprising that I liked Julian Schnabel's new film "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" based on the life of Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's life. In fact, I didn't just like it, I loved it. It is a great, moving, well-made film.

Jean-Do (Mathieu Almaric) wakes up to find himself in a hospital room in a resort on the coast of France. He quickly learns he is paralyzed from head to toe, cannot speak, and can only blink one eye. As the doctors and their staff visit and do their tests, he learns the prognosis is not good, but they go ahead with more tests and try to help him learn how to adjust to the new life, to rehabilitate him. His estranged wife Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze) visits and can barely look at her husband. One of the physical therapists, Claude (Anne Consigny) is brought on to try to help him learn how to communicate again. She has developed a system; she holds up a card listing all of the letters of the alphabet in the order they are most commonly used. She begins to rapidly go through them. When he hears a letter he wants to use, he blinks. As the words begin to form, she suggests a word. If it is the correct word, she blinks. Jean-Do contacts his publisher, with the help of Claude, and arranges for a transcriber to help him write a book about his experiences. Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner, "The Ninth Gate") arrives and to help him write and cope with his life. Writing the book helps him to remember back to key moments in his life, including interactions with his father, Papinou (Max Von Sydow).

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is really a fairly remarkable film. Schnabel uses all of those elements I mentioned previously, the ones I hate, to evoke what Jean-Do is going through. The film opens with a series of flashes and brief glimpses of objects. We hear Jean-Do narrating and feel his confusion as he tries to figure out where he is. Weak, he can barely keep his eyes open. He quickly realizes a series of doctors are fawning over him, trying to figure out what has happened to him. Schnabel uses a series of quick shots, overexposures, brief images and more to give us a feeling of what is going on in Jean-Do's head. Naturally, he is confused and disoriented and we get a real feeling for that.

This actually goes on for a while, longer than I would've believed possible in order to maintain any sort of narrative. But because we are inside the patients head for so long, we get a real feel for what he is experiencing. As we listen to his narrative, which are essentially his thoughts, and see what he is seeing, in brief glimpses, and learn what he learns, Schnabel and actor Mathieu Almaric paint a remarkably vivid portrait of this man who can only move one eye.

Many actors have portrayed paraplegics in the past, and been richly rewarded for their work with Oscars. Almaric's performance blows them out of the water. For the first twenty or so minutes, we don't even see the actor, but we get a feeling for his character, for his frustration, for his desperation. We are listening to his thoughts and this gives us a great picture of what he is feeling. When we do finally see Jean-Do, we already have a feeling of what this character will be like.

In a film like this, there are usually glimpses into the characters life before the sickness hits, generally told through flashbacks. In "Diving Bell", there are surprisingly few flashbacks to his life before the sickness. These aren't really needed because the actor gives us glimpses of this previous life through his performance. When we do see a glimpse of this life, it is necessary, to help establish a character we haven't met yet, or to set up an event later in the film. One such moment happens when Jean-Do remembers a time when he visited his father, Papinou (Von Sydow) in his Paris apartment. Papinou, an elderly man, is confined to second floor apartment because he can't get up and down the stairs. Jean-Do visits him and gives him a shave. It is a touching moment, filled with emotion because they clearly love each other very much.

The process of writing the book comes to fill the majority of the second act of the film. It is a laborious process, but as jean-Do and Celine get the hang of working with each other, they become more productive. Yet, Jean-Do can't help but comment about how slow the process is, the pains they go through getting accustomed to one another, and more. As Celine gets to know the former magazine editor better, she begins to sense what he is trying to say after he picks up a few letters. In fact, everyone close to him does the same thing.

It won't fit. Please read the full review at thornhillatthemovies.com

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