DemosNews: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly
By: HermioneSG

Director Julian Schnabel’s painterly eye flashes original and brilliant in The Diving Bell and Butterfly— different from traditional cinematography, different from theater. His rectangular picture plane struggles into and out of focus according to the main character’s psychological and physical state. Faces duck into his (our) view and slip off, whole scenes blink as if we are the character himself blinking. We hear his spoken voice, although others may not. All of these cement us, the viewers, intimately close to the character’s being. Artistic, impromptu, happening-like strokes glide unexpectedly into the movie: an overhead flashback shows the lead in full debonair vigor, driving from his mistress’ home in a flashy new car, then the whole scene whirls to capture his giddiness.

This is an extremely difficult (true) story to transmute to film. The lead figure, after all, lies rigid through most of the film, devastatingly paralyzed, save for the movement of one eyelid, which he learns to harness as means to communicate. Meanwhile, we hear his despair, his longings, ironic retorts, and eroticism as an interior voice. His imagination and memory, he reminds us, remain unimpaired and boundless.

We wake up to his condition as he wakes up to it, and gropes with how to endure it (or not.) Cleaving to a friend’s council who’d survived a different torture, his own humanity gradually draws him forward to regain touch with the characters and experiences he holds dear. Both in his past and in the present, he feels moments of great intimacy with his children, with his father, with the women who help him cope, especially the one to whom he dictates his heart and story blink by blink. The book that results, which was published in 1997, days before he died, presents the whole bundle of a richly layered person —juicy, heartbreaking, funny, uplifting.

Most of the action takes place in very small spaces, within a foot or two of his wheelchair or bed, within the drawing room to which his father is confined, inside his own eyelid. Usually only two or three players are present at a time. But these tightly constricted scenes are leavened by more spacious shots of him against the spare seascape near the clinic, of his former carefree days in Paris as editor of Elle, of the very moments just before the stroke plucked him from vitality to a deadened carcass, and finally, in his imagination, to one of the most voluptuously erotic eating scenes in film.

The acting level in the movie is uniformly superb, with magnificent performances by the main character Mathieu Amalric, his father the great Swedish actor Max von Sydow, and the marvelous young actress Anne Consigny who enables his feelings and the book to flower. The film cuts, the pacing, scenes without a word like the one of him pinned to his wheelchair on a raised wooden platform high above roiling ocean waves, are perfect. Only one short episode – a digressive visit to Lourdes, seems flat and extraneous.

This is a marvelous, hugely affecting movie.

© 2021 HermioneSG of DemosNews

December 8, 2007 at 2:43pm
DemosRating: 5
Hits: 1930

Genre: Arts (Reviews)
Type: Critical
Tags: movie, review, Julien, Schnabel, Jean-Dominique, Bauby, Mathieu, Amalric

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rj   Fabulous review - and a truly beautiful film. Deserves a 10!...
juju   I loved the movie as well and couldn't agree more with the r...
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