An unbelievable epic, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is one of the most beautifully written, directed, and acted films of this year and of all time. Julian Schnabel’s French import is an amazing vision blooming with innovative directing techniques that are not often seen in American film. This is one of the best directed films this year, and one of the best foreign films of all time.
The film tells the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (played miraculously by Mathieu Amalric) the former editor of French Elle whose life was sadly rendered by a massive stroke. The stroke left him paralyzed from head to toe with a rare illness called “locked-in syndrome, leaving only his mind and his left eye active. As Bauby recuperates, he begins to dictate a book about his affliction through the blink of his eye with the aid of three beautiful nurses Henriette (Marie-Josée Croze), Claude (Anne Consigny), and Marie (Olatz Lopez Garamendia).
The movie does an amazing job of telling the story through an excellent adaptation of Bauby’s memoir. We hear Bauby’s thoughts, almost completely made up by screenwriter Ronald Harwood. Harwood’s Bauby is an extremely intelligent man which adds a lot of sadness to the tale. From the outside it would seem like he would be quite the opposite due to his lazed physical appearance. The invented inner dialogue shows a much sadder side to the story.
The film is directed like no other. Schnabel, who directed the fabulous biopic “Basquiat”, takes his job to new heights setting a new standard. “Diving Bell” is very well thought out. For example, the opening scene depicts Bauby’s awakening from his comatose state. The sequence lasts a few minutes, and the viewer really gets a feel for how confused the patient is and how claustrophobic he is feeling. The whole film is a little claustrophobic, but it is hardly uncomfortable.
Once more, the character of Jean-Dominique Bauby is very well developed. He has a very creative mind, something that spurs many glorious scenes which explore his imagined experiences. These sequences are incredibly delivered through Schnabel’s eye, Harwood’s script, and the amazing inspiration from Bauby’s memoir.
“Diving Bell” is also filled with triumphant performances. Mathieu Amalric, who was introduced to American audiences in Spielberg’s spectacular “Munich”, is a revelation. He barely speaks throughout the movie, but the sadness in his eyes could move mountains. Equally fantastic is the legendary Max von Sydow, playing Bauby’s sad father Papinou. Sydow’s performance is tragically impressive and his few scenes on the screen are heartwrenching.
Also outstanding is the beautiful Emmanuelle Seigner, who plays the estranged lover/mother of Bauby’s children. Her character is terribly sad in both her storyline and the fact that she puts on such a real face of hopefulness. She knows that she may lose Bauby in many ways, but she works through the pain to keep her family happy. There is one scene in which she breaks down, and it is probably one of the saddest scenes in recent film history. Seigner is absolutely superb, and after appearing in 2007’s other huge French film “La Vie En Rose”, it is sure that we will see a lot more of her.
Like many of the other movies that have proven spectacular these few weeks, the soundtrack to the film is equally as terrific. The list of songs may be short, but they fit the film perfectly. The use of artists like The Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, U2, Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle, and an amazing theme by Paul Cantelon create an amazing explosion of musical intensity that just work well with the movie and the audience.
“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” will probably go under the radar for many moviegoers during this season of huge blockbusters and mainstream Oscar movies. Nevertheless, it proves a much more interesting theater experience than your average run of the mill movie. It is revolutionary in many different ways and will hopefully see a better life on DVD. The movie will undoubtedly get some Oscar attention after its three Golden Globe nominations (Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Foreign Language Film), most likely scoring some recognition for Julian Schnabel and his faultless directing style.