On the surface, the newly-released film “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” would seem to have nothing of interest for American audiences:
- its about a middle-aged man at the top of his career being felled by a paralyzing stroke
- its in French
- Its subtitled
- it’s based on a true story
- It’s directed by a painter (?)
Twelve hours after seeing this film, I am still in awe. It was absolutely brilliant, and like no other film I have (perhaps) ever seen.
Your trusted narrator is far from an “American everyman” but I think many will find the beauty and imagination of this film to be stunning, as I did. Perhaps some of the current critical buzz will help it gain distribution that will allow more than film buffs to see it.
The short synopsis: Jean-Dominique Bauby, celebrity editor of Elle (FR) magazine, suffers a stroke at age 43; leaving him totally paralyzed,an exceeding rare occurrence called “Locked-In Syndrome”. Only his left eye is spared, so he must learn to live (and communicate) thru blinking.
OK, go ahead and make your My Left Foot jokes (My Left Eyelash?). Doesn”t matter. Director Julian Schnabel, who’s most famous for being a famous painter of shattered pottery than as a film director, immerses the viewer into Bauby’s mind as he comes out of his coma and begins experiencing his new life — a cinematic tour de force some have called a high-wire act of visual daring and unquenchable spirit. Brilliant.
As the current film The Savages also avoids, this story could have easily fallen into sentimental pap that the current “reality shows” market. But “,bogus uplift isn’t in Schnabel’s DNA. His film honors Bauby by treating his torment and his triumph with unflinching honesty…” (I couldn”t say it better than Peter Travers RS review, so I stole his quote.)
Fans of current French films may recognize Mathieu Amalric, whose performance as Bauby, bedridden and seen in flashback in robust, skirt-chasing health, defines the word “extraordinary.” Max Von Sydow is simply superb as Bauby’s father. Ditto Marie-Josee Croze as the therapist who teaches him to ‘speak” by blinking to spell words,a process as beautiful and astounding as to be indescribable. You have to see (and hear) it to believe it. Again, brilliant.
Don”t miss this film; and if possible, see it in the dark with others, as it was meant to be seen. It requires your total attention. You will be rewarded.