Friday, October 19, 2007



Mathieu Amalric (right) as French editor Jean-Dominique Bauby
at work on ELLE magazine
Photo: Etienne George/Courtesy of Miramax Films

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, shown at the 45th New York Film Festival (NYFF) – and also to be shown at the Hamptons Film Festival (HIFF) -- is an adaptation, by the artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, of a famous French book, Le scaphandre et le papillon, written by Jean-Dominique Bauby, – the cosmopolitan editor of French ELLE, who -- after suffering a sudden stroke in his early forties -- was faced with total paralysis, except, notably, the ability to blink one eye.

Marie-Josée Croze as Henriette Durand,
Jean-Dominique Bauby’s speech therapist
Photo: Etienne George/Courtesy of Miramax Films

Thanks to a sympathetic therapist, he learned how to use this ability to select letters, which were strung together, laboriously one by one, to make words, then sentences and, ultimately a book describing his life… trapped in an immobile body.

It was filmed in the hospital where Bauby stayed, giving the film a strong sense of place, and an authenticity which was earned by checking the accuracy in detail of the portrayal of his therapy and the reactions of the staff and the patient. It is filmed essentially from Bauby’s point of view. The integrity of the film had made it of particular interest to health professionals.

The language of the film is French. It has a very strong feeling of being a French film (even though the director did not speak the language when he began making the picture). It also has beautiful women, and sex and romance at a distance.
Schnabel, of course, is an artist, and the film has a strong, attractive visual style.

Left: Max von Sydow as Papinou
Right: Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby
Photo: Etienne George/Courtesy of Miramax Films

There is a very powerful cameo by Max von Sydow as the father. And Mathieu Amalric, the actor playing Bauby, is also excellent and very interesting as well.

In the version I saw – perhaps it has been changed – there seemed to be a confusing problem in the subtitled translation of the French. For example, if the word being spelled was aime (or love), as the therapist clearly read off “a… i… m… e…,” the translation in subtitles read
“l… o… v… e…”

The film is in part about being trapped (also a theme of I Just Didn’t Do It, at NYFF ). It is also about the sadness that comes from having done something wrong in the past and being unable to correct it; about loneliness and the inability to make connections (also a theme of
Bernard and Doris, the opening night film at HIFF); about the joy of taking note of what beauty is available; and the joy of creating a work of art and importance; and about pain and the fear of dying.

The film is a moving work of art and life.

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