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"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”
Reviewer:
Wayne A. Klein
Studio: Miramax Home Video
Genre: Drama
Release:
4/29/08
Special Features: Commentary by Director Julian Schnabel; "Submerged: The Making of 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'"; "A Cinematic Vision", excerpts from "The Charlie Rose Show" featuring Director Schnabel, trailers, previews
Review:

Imagine being trapped on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe. Now imagine the island is your body and you're trapped inside it with minimal means to communicate and your own body an unresponsive cocoon. That's Locked In syndrome. It's a condition where the body stops responding to the brain. You can't move, you can't eat, you can't speak. You're frozen much like someone who has Parkinson's Disease because your brain can't communicate with your body and you, in turn, can't communicate with the outside world. ***

This is the isolated world that Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) exists in; he's a passive participant in the world around him in many respects little more than a piece of furniture with awareness. When he wakes up from a three week coma, Babuy finds himself facing a hospital staff that he can't respond to expect by blinking his eyes. Surviving by relying on his imagination and sense of determination Babuy learns to communicate to the world by blinking "yes" and "no" to letters one at a time expressing his anger and frustration in a painfully slow manner. Babuy learns to survive initially via his daydreams, memories and the need to tell people even if it is one letter at a time that he did survive. ***

Directed by painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel ("Basquiat" and "Before Night Falls") and scripted by Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist" and "The Dresser") the creative team make the most of very little--we are limited to Babuy's world whether it be in the form of memories, daydreams or his own experiences in the hospital. Schanbel uses the visual metaphor of a diving suit (rather than a diving bell) buried under weight of water and isolated from the world to help us understand Babuy's limited world. It's an apt visual metaphor that captures how apart he is from the rest of the world and made into a passive observer by his affliction. ---

Image & Sound:

"The Diving Bell And The Butterfly" looks as vivid and impressionistic at times as a daydream with the use of filters and time lapse photography to represent the smaller world that Bauby inhabits. Relying on a wide variety of film stocks and colors to portray different times, places and elements of Babuy's imagination, Schnabel's film looks marvelous. ***

You'd expect such a "limited" movie to also have "limited" choices in the sound department but you'd be quite wrong. Schnabel cleverly integrates the ambience of the hospital and the world as Babuy remembers it into a rich, well balanced soundtrack. The film is available to watch in its original French, dubbed English and Spanish versions and has subtitles. ---

Special Features:

"Submerged: The Making of 'The Diving Bell and The Butterfly'" allows the director to discuss his vision of the film, how he and Harwood developed the script, why he as an American and Harwood who is British chose to shoot the film in French and why he shot on location in a hospital. ***

"A Cinematic Vision" expands on the first featurette tackling the use of the camera to express Bauby's world. ***

The audio commentary by Schnabel is as informative as the featurettes covering much of the same ground. Although he is often silent he chimes in when he has something valuable to say. The film probably could have benefited from the participation of some of the actors or the writer commenting and prodding Schnabel to discuss his working technique a bit more. ***

We also get Schnabel's appearance on "The Charlie Rose Show" where he shows that he is a natural born storyteller but that he needs to see his audience so he can express himself. ---

Final Words:

A marvelous, touching, tragic and moving film "The Diving Bell and The Butterfly" gives voice to those who are isolated from the world and made to be merely passive observers. It also demonstrates that even when they are only observing they have wry comments and thoughts about the world around them. It's a powerful and engaging film.

 

 
 
 
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