The Diving Bell and the Butterfly review by Tom Blain

When The Diving Bell and the Butterfly first hit theaters (what little U.S. theaters it did hit) I was skeptical. Could I sit through an entire movie of blinking? I mean blinking! Well, that maybe an over-simplification of Julian Schnabels 2007 French-language film, but as a guy who pays top dollar to see a movie (or sometimes two) at a mega-plex, I really have to do my research to make sure Im getting my moneys worth.

But some time has passed and the movie is now out on DVD. On top of that it has received multiple awards (4 Oscar nominations) so someone out there likes it. So whats it all about?

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is based on a true story of Jean-Domanique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric). Jean-Do was an editor at Elle magazine, at the top of his game with multiple women and a few children. Then he was hit with a debilitating stroke that left him with only his mind and the movement in his left eye, a state called locked in syndrome. With the help of physicians and trainers he was able learn to communicate through blinking (once- yes, twice- no). He takes his rudimentary communication to a new level by authoring a book with the help of a very patient assistant.

The film is shot under a myriad of styles. It opens with about 15-20 minutes worth of POV shots set to position the audience within the body of Jean-Do. The cameras focus fades in and out and has field limitations as he comes out of a coma in the doctors office. The whole sequence traps the audience and gives a claustrophobic feel (enhanced by shots of a man screaming in a diving suit). The film switches from POV to a more standard style that allows us to see Jean-Do in his ghastly appearance. It interspersed with dream sequences and flashbacks of when Jean-Do was a healthy ladies man, helping out his father, and visiting his children.

The movies style keeps what could be a rather dry film rather fresh. The film never really drags or lets down, but keeps a pretty upbeat pace. It also has a good balance between building up Jean-Do, and yet not building him up to be anything he wasnt. Many films that fall into this category (generally speaking, biopics) also fall into the trap of deifying their subject but that was never the case in Diving Bell. Jean-Do never settled down with the mother of his children and showed little regret. The film didnt try to hide his faults even in his locked-in state.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was originally done in French, but there is a dubbed option for English. Normally this wouldnt be a favorable decision outside of Kung Fu flicks, but in this case its actually quite passable as all the original actors did their English dubbed voices. For anyone who is man enough (or literate) this is a good option.

I was impressed. How do you make a film about a guy who blinks and make it entertaining? Talk to Julian Schnabel because he figured it out. It doesnt go overboard to make its main character a saint, but what it does do is put you in his position and make you understand how he feels. Its a fine story and a great technical work.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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