The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2008)

by | Apr 22, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2008)

Director: Julian Schnabel
Studio: Pathe/Miramax Films 55967 [Street date: April 29, 08]
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 widescreen, color
Audio: French, Spanish or English DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
Extras: “Submerged: The Making of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “A Cinematic Vision,” Audio commentary track with Director Julian Schnabel, Charlie Rose interview with Julian Schnabel
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: *****

This challenging and touching French film was named Best Picture of the Year by several institutions including the Golden Globes, and it was nominated for four Academy Awards. Director Schnabel was the screenwriter for the The Pianist, and in this new film he dealt with the seemingly impossible filmic subject of portraying the true story of the editor of Elle magazine, who suddenly succumbed to a devastating stroke which left him completely paralyzed except for the ability to blink one eye. 

With the patient attentions of a young speech therapist, the two laboriously worked out a system whereby she would say all the letters of the alphabet in succession over and over and he would blink his eye once for the letter he wanted to communicate in dictation. Also, to questions, one blink meant yes and two meant no. As he says to himself on the soundtrack, all he had left was his memory and his imagination, and he made fullest use of them in dictating an entire book with the same title as the film. 

There have been films before which used the subjective camera approach to tell their stories, but Schnabel has used that in this film in the most affecting way imaginable.  One writer even went so far as to call it “the rebirth of the cinema.”  It begins with the viewer seeing only blurry light and dark areas as the stricken editor is coming out of a coma and doctors are hovering over him.  Very slowly images begin to appear and he realizes he cannot move or even speak.  The effect on the viewer is overwhelming. It was thoughtful to provide an English-dubbed track in this case since it does make watching it more realistic and affecting for English speakers.  Schnabel holds off on showing the actual stroke until near the end of the film.  One would think this very difficult subject precludes the film being often astonishingly beautiful, but that is not the case at all.  Schnabel has achieved a quite amazing filmic story that audiences should long remember.

[Terrific as is the film, it actually defames some important aspects of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s real story. For the truth about Diving Bell, see this Salon article.]
– John Sunier
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