The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

DivingBellButterfly“Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.”

This amazing triumph adapts the extraordinary, real life events of Jean-Dominique Bauby, famous journalist and French Elle editor. Based on the French memoir Le scaphandre et le papillon, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly grips you with hope and imagination. After suffering a massive stroke that only allows him the use of one eye, Bauby (a.k.a. “Jean-Do”) finds new experiences beyond the boundaries of our physical bodies.

Actor Mathieu Amalric gives a powerful performance that balances flashbacks of Bauby’s family and past with his current condition termed “locked-in syndrome.” Amalric also provides effective narration in an awe-inspiring role that pushes all his functions to the limit. Bauby struggles to keep his morale high as he wrestles with his inner voices and discovers a deeper understanding of himself. “Miracles make you feel self-important,” he says as his attitude turns more positive.

He opens up to his family and the church. He discovers how many people pray for him every day, which triggers a foreshadowing flashback to Lourdes. It’s memorable role that deserved an Oscar nomination, but still yielded more roles including a villain in the upcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace. Amid his constant personal struggles, Bauby decides to write about his experiences with the help of two female specialists.

At the hospital, Bauby learns to communicate with a speech therapist named Henriette, played by Marie-Josee Croze (Munich, Barbarian Invasions). Emmanuelle Seigner (Frantic, La Vie En Rose) plays the dictator, Celine who helps Bauby patiently write his book by reciting a specially ordered alphabet. Bauby blinks affirmative codes to choose each letter, but, by the end, Celine can almost finish all of his poignant words. The home video version of the film offers spoken and subtitled words in French, English, and Spanish, just remember that the subtitles match the original French dialogue. Veteran actor Max Von Sydow (Minority Report, The Greatest Story Ever Told) has a powerful supporting role as Bauby’s father. His pride and support strengthen his son. “We’re all children, we all need approval,” Bauby says in his memoir.

Director Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls) and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Saving Private Ryan) layer some amazing visuals and create several imaginative point-of-view shots. Highly recommended and rated PG-13 for nudity, sexual content and language. The DVD has several extras including an in-depth interview on the Charlie Rose television program, but the 25-minute film, “Assigné à résidence” (a.k.a. “House Arrest”) by French director Jean-Jacques Beineix that captured Bauby while he was writing his memoir would’ve made a great addition.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

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