The following is an excerpt of a review that originally ran in full On September 30th, as part of our New York Film Festival coverage.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Miramax, December, 2007)
directed by: Julian Schnabel, written by: Jean-Dominique Bauby (novel), Ronald Harwood (screenplay)
The life of Jean-Dominique Bauby is at once tragic and inspirational and in the very capable hands of director Julian Schnabel, his story comes to the screen in a most moving and artful way. We learn through early dialogue and flashback that Bauby has suffered a major stroke and that coming out of a coma he awakens in a state referred to as “locked in syndrome.” Actor Mathieu Amalric (Munich) plays Bauby, editor of Elle magazine and a major player in 1990s Paris social circles. After his stroke, Bauby becomes all but incapable of communication, as he is unable to speak or move, with the exception of his left eyelid.
While he is naturally bitter and desperate at first, Bauby eventually learns – in some of the more beautiful moments of the film – how his imagination can set him free. In an ingenious sequence, he learns to communicate using only his one working eye. As his speech therapist reads the alphabet in the order of their frequency of use in French, Bauby blinks when she reaches the letter he wants to use, thus freeing his mind to create. Over time, Bauby receives visits from assorted friends including his young children Theophile (Theo Sampaio) and Celeste (Fiorella Campanella) and his ex-wife Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), most of whom learn the system. The visits with his kids at the seaside hospital provide the film with a tremendous humanity, as do the flashbacks with his dying father (Max Von Sydow). Those relationships are provided as complex and rich, something many sentimental “affliction” films neglect.
Read the complete review here.