Update Feb. 23: Julian Schnabel just won the Best Director Trophy and Janusz Kaminski the Best Cinematographer at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica today.
Update Feb. 11: Ronald Harwood just won the Best Adapted Screenplay at the BAFTA (British Academy for Film and Television Arts) Awards in London last night.
Director Julian Schnabel is an established New York artist/painter. Adhering to the ‘neo-expressionist’ style, his work has been exhibited at galleries around the world. In The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, Schnabel has turned into a master of realism as he vividly captures the traumatic experience of Jean-Dominique Bauby, not with a paintbrush, but with the potent use of the camera.
Jean-Do Bauby was the Editor-In-Chief of Elle magazine in France. At the age of 43 he suffered a stroke. His whole body was paralyzed except his left eye. He became a sufferer of a rare condition of “locked-in syndrome”: while he was able to comprehend what others were saying to him, he could not communicate with them. As if trapped inside a diving bell deep in the ocean tethered to life by a single chord, he was encased in his own body, completely isolated from the outside world.
With the help of his speech therapist Henriette in the hospital, Bauby learned to use what was left in his ability: the blinking of his left eye. With this minimal movement, he opened up a portal of his inner world. By painstakingly blinking to select the letters of the alphabet, Bauby was able to dictate to his therapist his memoir, completed a few days before his death. This film is the visualization of the book. To read my review and excerpts of the book, click here.
Imagine watching a movie with blurry camera work, frames cutting off the full head of people, and sometimes camera angle so close-up to a face you feel suffocated, …blurry shots, indefinitive dialogues…This is the realism of Julian Schnabel, the film director. He wants the viewer to look out from the left eye of Jean-Do Bauby.
Fortunately viewers are spared lengthy display of such realism, because in the memory of Bauby’s past experiences and in his imagination, we are able to see sharply focused and beautiful scenes… reality may be blurry and shaky, memories and dreams are clear as crystal.
From the artist eye of Julian Schnabel, to the blinking eye movement of Jean-Do Bauby, the film captures the poignant struggle of a human striving to live every single minute of everyday. It depicts the power of the mind and spirit, the humor that sustains, the painful yearning for love and intimacy, the daily human condition magnified a thousand times due to debilitation, the whole physical being tethered on the blinking of an eye and the inner searching of a soul alive.
Mathieu Amalric has a demanding role to play as the paralyzed Bauby, for his whole acting is confined to his one left eye. I must say he has done a remarkably engrossing and convincing feat.
Marie-Josée Croze (Best Actress at Cannes for The Barbarian Invasions, 2003), by taking up the role as therapist Henriette Durand, has the equally demanding task of looking into the camera and reciting the French alphabets numerous times, and each time, with passion, pathos, and persistence, each time transmitting a new beginning, a new hope.
Max von Sydow (with film credits too numerous to mention), the veteran actor playing the role of Bauby’s 92 year-old father, equally shut-in, yet ever alive in spirit, the only character seeping sentiments, however restrained. It is exactly because of such restraints that pathos gets through.
And Emmanuelle Seigner, the ex-wife of Bauby, the mother of his three children, the keeper of memory, creator of new experiences, and the butterfly for the soul trapped in the diving bell. A marvellous character.
Very poignant acting, a very dynamic and powerful movie, and, despite its subject matter, an uplifting film for every living, breathing, and feeling soul.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is nominated for 4 Oscars: Best Cinematography, Best Directing, Best Editing, and Best Adapted Screenplay. For the full list of Oscar Nominees, click here.
~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples