Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The (France/USA; 112 min)

directed by: Julian Schnabel
starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seignier, Marie-Josée Croze , Ann Consigny, Patrick Chesnais, Marina Hands, Max von Sydow, Issach De Bankolé, Jean-Pierre Cassel
Le Scaphandre et le papillon
Bruce says: "Julian Schnabel suspects that Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) was superficial and arrogant, not a particularly likeable man, before he suffered the fatal stroke that turned him into a sensitive, reflecting human being. Bauby was editor of Elle magazine in Paris and lived a charmed life in the fast lane. He had many women in his life but never married although he fathered two children with his long-term partner Céline Desmoulins (Emmanuelle Seignier) whom he subsequently abandoned. The stroke occurred in 1995. His unique memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was published two days before his death in 1996.

"By the time Bauby awakens from his stroke-induced coma, medical experts have already determined he has locked-in syndrome, a state of paralysis which, although his mind is fully functional, renders him unable to move limbs or speak. As the film opens it is decided that his right eye is not blinking properly and may become infected if exposed. 'I’ve done it a thousand times,' the doctor says as he sews it shut. Bauby is left with only his left eye operative and it becomes the sole vehicle for him to communicate with the outside world. A therapist (Marie-Josée Croze) begins working with him immediately. She slowly earns his trust and develops a system whereby he can create words by blinking. To make this happen, she re-orders the alphabet with the letters in sequence according to their frequency of use in the French language. As she reads each letter Bauby blinks when he hears the letter he wishes to use.

To help him write his thoughts down, a translator is found. She uses the blinking system to help him document the two things he has to cling to, the things that (in his words) make him human: his memories and his imagination. Bauby begins to describe how he feels, '…something like a giant invisible diving bell holds my body prisoner' and, later, 'My diving bell becomes less oppressive and my mind takes flight like a butterfly.' His memoir tracks his day-to-day progress, the visitors who either cheer him up or exasperate him no end, his dreams and fantasies, the recollections of his last visit with his father, and a trip to Lourdes with a former lover.

THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY is a faithful adaptation of the memoir. But it is also much more. Cinematically, Schnabel presents the story from Bauby’s point of view. We are inside his head. We see and feel the world from his perspective - lopsided, distorted and fuzzy. Although the story is extraordinarily moving and sometimes depressing, it is never maudlin. Schnaubel has taken many risks taking and every single risk pays off. Rarely has the written world fallen into such gifted hands. It is difficult to imagine an actor more perfect for a role than Mathieu Amalric (KINGS AND QUEEN and MUNICH) who brings Bauby alive in every possible way. The supporting cast is strong. Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is magnificent; the script is superb. Make no mistake, in spite of all the assembled talents, it is clearly Schnaubel’s film. Brilliant. 5 cats"