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The Diving Bell And The Butterfly (2007)

DVD Cover (Miramax)
Director:
Julian Schnabel Julian Schnabel
Starring:
Mathieu Amalric Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner Emmanuelle Seigner
Marie-Josée Croze Marie-Josée Croze
Anne Consigny Anne Consigny
Patrick Chesnais Patrick Chesnais

8.0 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Drama, Medical Drama
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: January 15, 2008
Imagine driving with your son on a country road, the wind blowing through your hair, the stereo blaring as loud as it will go, everything right in the world. Then imagine waking up in a hospital, unable to move or speak, confined to your own body and only able to communicate through eye movement. This is the real life nightmare that struck Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, in the prime of his life and one of the most successful magazine editors in the world. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is the film based on the autobiography of the same name, written while Bauby was suffering from a rare condition known as 'locked-in syndrome'. The film is directed by Julian Schnabel, a popular neo-expressionist artist who has achieved mass success in both the worlds of cinema and art. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a heavy film and not one to be undertaken lightly. It deals with the darkest and most depressing of subject matters and doesn't offer anything other than an insight into the life of a man thrust into a world of silence. It bore resemblances to films like "The Sea Inside" and even "Awakenings", but is a film all to itself. It's one of the finest films of the year and one of the most amazing cinematic experiences I have had in many years.

The film opens with a flutter - a blast of light, some twirls and bursts of images. Nothing is clear. We are seeing life through the eyes of the title character, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric). We see some doctors and some nurses and then quickly explain to Jean-Do exactly what has happened and what they plan to do next. We see everything just as he sees it, which is a marvel of cinematic achievement. We can hear Jean-Do responding to their questions because we are inside his head with him. The people on the outside, however, cannot. One of the nurses, Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze), develops a system of communicating with Jean-Do, where she speaks the alphabet to him and he blinks when she gets to the letter he wants to use in a word. He receives weekly visitors, including the mother of his children (Emmanuelle Seigner), his best friend in the world (Isaach De Bankole) and, eventually, his three children. He also spends a great deal of time inside his own imagination. Jean-Do even agrees to write a book for his publishing company, utilizing the method of communication that he has recently learned, blinking out the letters, one at a time. In doing so, he brings forth a flood of memories about everything from his elderly father, Papinou (Max Von Sydow), to the very event that would shape the course of his life forever. Most of the film deals with Jean-Do in the hospital, all leading up to the end, where a bout with pneumonia ends his life.

This film is a perfect blending of talents. Julian Schnabel's direction is totally deserving of the Best Director Academy Award and it should even be studied in universities. He has one of the most unusual and creative visual minds around and "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" explodes under his direction. The script by Ronald Harwood is sharp and heartbreaking, presenting us with some of the most tragically constructed scenes imaginable, as when Jean-Do's wife must translate what he is saying to his mistress, who is on the other end of the phone. The cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is also Academy Award worthy and could likely take home that gold. Kaminski and Schnabel brilliantly capture the feeling of isolation and confinement, as well as the depth of imagination therein. I can't recall being this affected by the technical aspects of a film in such a long time, but I was here. This film wrecked me emotionally, and that is a good thing. The first twenty five minutes alone is something you've yet to see in cinema before - I guarantee you that. It's always nice to see something so innovative and so affective. But, don't go into this film expecting to find a surplus of faith and happiness. It's just not there. The story is inspiring and moving, but it's also tragic and heartbreaking. It never really leans one way over the other, which I suppose is what much it a modern day masterpiece.

As for the performances, Mathieu Amalric is now, officially, a superstar. He has one of the most difficult roles I can imagine - not moving anything but one eye. And he does it. You won't catch any muscle in his body doing anything - just that one eye fluttering about. That's acting. Even without words, that's acting and it's the most impressive performance of the year, hands down. As his nurse and friend, Marie-Josee Croze is beautiful and touching. She is so much more than her performance in "Munich" and she bares a striking and uncanny resemblance to Naomi Watts. And, acting legend Max Von Sydow provides two of the most touching scenes in recent movie history as Jean-Do's elderly father. His scene where he calls Jean-Do, knowing his son cannot respond, left me in tears and breathless. Their relationship in the film is so touching and that conversation just breaks your heart. Von Sydow has had a long, successful career as an actor, and this is an amazing role for so late in his career. I would love to see him nominated for Best Supporting Actor and would also love to see him win for this role. It reminded me of Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild", but this performance seems so much more authentic and so much more painful.

What a treat to find this film. What a treat to get to experience so many talented people come together to tell a singular story. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is an experience more than anything else. It's a film, and an amazing one - but it's, first and foremost, an experience. You have to see it to believe it, and seeing it is embracing it. It's the most moving and affecting film of the year, and one of the best all around pictures of the year too. Now, my suggestions: Mathieu Amalric for Best Actor, Max Von Sydow for Best Supporting Actor, Julian Schnabel for Best Director, Ronald Harwood for Best Adapted Screenplay and Janusz Kaminski for Best Cinematography. What are the chances it will be nominated for all of these? Very high actually. As soon as the film was over, I rushed out and purchased the book and just finished it early this morning. I suggest everyone start out with the book and then see the film. They are great companion pieces.

10/10.
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Crispy #1: Crispy - added 01/15/2008, 07:33 PM
Sounds interesting. How would you compare it to Johnny Got His Gun?
waxtadpole3657 #2: waxtadpole3657 - added 01/16/2008, 12:41 AM
This is surprisingly playing in CT (2 theaters), one which is within driving distance. I really need to catch this film.
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