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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, 2007
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THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY MOVIE POSTERTHE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, 2007
Movie Reviews

Directed by Julian Schnabel
Starring: Mathieu Almaric, Emanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josèe Croze, Anne Consigny, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Max von Sydow, Anne Alvaro, Patrick Chesnais
Review by Nina Katungi


SYNOPSIS:

On December 8th 1995, at the age of 43, fashion editor of French Elle, Jean-Dominic Bauby suffered from a stroke. He woke up in a hospital three weeks later to find that he was totally paralysed except for his left eye. Trapped in a body with the clearest of minds, Bauby manages to dictate his memoirs by using the blink of his eye to determine each letter from the alphabet.

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The painter/director Julian Schnabel took on this book and brought it to the big screen. Universal originally planned on making the movie with the intention that Johnny Depp would play Bauby. The film was also supposed to be in English not French. What happened was Universal ended up withdrawing from the project and instead Pathè picked it up. Johnny Depp was still supposed to take on the role as Bauby, however due to scheduling difficulties Depp had to pull out and so Mathieu Almaric was brought in. It was decided in the end that the film would be in French and English although due to financial issues the English version was never made. The French version was absolutely the right way to go and Schnabel, who did not speak French at the time, started taking French lessons. The film was expressed as it was in the book completely through the eyes of Jean-Dominic Bauby. Schnabel created an art piece by sound, light, visuals and in result he brought Bauby’s confined world to life.

Jean-Dominic Bauby (Almaric) is a Journalist, Author, Editor to French Elle magazine and divorced father of two children (however there are three children in the film). While picking up his children in the French countryside, Bauby suffers from a stroke. He wakes up in a hospital, weeks later, to discover he can’t speak nor move but his mind is as clear and precise as ever. This condition is called “Lock-down syndrome”. Every moment in this film is taken from Bauby’s point of view. We see how and what he sees. We hear how he hears. We can hear his thoughts, through voice-over, every step of the way.

Bauby is showered with doctors, specialists, and therapists hoping to help him through this extraordinary endeavour. Bauby is naturally confused, overwhelmed, and angry. At first Bauby is uncooperative and distressed but after visits from friends and the persistence of his speech therapist Henriette Roi (Croze), he starts to work with the communication system that Roi has prepared for him. Once Bauby starts to get a hang of this new form of communication he decides he wants to write his memoirs. Bauby was actually already in the process of writing a book at the time of his accident and so he decides to contact his publisher (Alvaro) to notify her on his change of plan. Claude (Consigny), the publisher’s assistant, is sent to work with Bauby at the hospital. It takes fourteen months for them to write the book. Bauby starts to realise that his imagination is a beautiful trait he still has control over - it can take him to the end of the world and back. His memoirs entail his memories with family and friends, his vivid imaginary world, and his day to day experience of living with “lock-down syndrome”. “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is such an amazing story, this man achieved an unbelievable task and is nothing but an inspiration to all of us. Two days after the book was published in 1997, Jean-Dominique Bauby died of pneumonia.

Julian Schnabel created a piece of art in this film and considering his artistic background this comes as no surprise. Schnabel is mostly recognised as a success in the Art world. He has directed a total of four feature films, all of which have acclaimed a lot of praise. He is well-known for films such a “Basquiat” and “Before Night Falls”, which was Javier Bardem’s breakthrough role and in result honoured him with his first Oscar nomination. The film could actually be considered as an installation piece. It allows the audience to step into Bauby’s world; he is their guide leading them through the real and the abstract.

Schnabel kept true to Bauby’s book in the visual sense that is but due to some people’s dismay, Schnabel chose to change a few THE DIVING BELLfacts. The main issue was the fact that in the film, Bauby’s ex-wife Celine (Seignier) comes to visit everyday. The truth is she came to visit a couple of times with the children. Florence, Bauby’s present girlfriend, was the one that was always there. She is only mentioned once in the film, where she speaks to Bauby on the phone while he is in hospital. Bauby’s speech therapist was not happy with script due to its inaccuracy while Bauby’s transcriber claimed that her scenes were accurately depicted except for the fact that she was not present the day Bauby died. It is not clear why these choices were made and among Bauby’s close family and friends this was clearly a disappointment. There was also one other inaccuracy that I should mention and that was Bauby’s children. However it was Bauby not Schnabel that created three children in his book instead of his original two. Apparently he became very fond of this extra character that he created therefore he added a third child in his book.

This story is exceptional and despite changes made in the film, Schnabel created something spectacular. As a visual piece I couldn’t ask for anything else. For an emotional piece it hits you straight in the heart. All in all I was inspired by what he created and found it be a beautiful canvas brought to life. “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” was nominated for four Oscars including “Best Writing” and “Best Directing”. It won a Critics Choice Award for “Best Foreign Language Film” in 2008 and Schnabel won the “Best Director” award at the Cannes Film Festival.

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