The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon)
Release year: 2007
Director: Julian Schnabel
Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood, Jean-Dominique Bauby (book)
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Cosigny, Niels Arestrup, Max von Sydow, Marina Hands
Ratings: 4 Oscar nominations: Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing. 2 Golden Globes: Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film. 1 Golden Globe nomination: Best Screenplay. Cannes: Best Director, Technical Grand Prize. Nominated for the Palme d’Or.
The true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who after a stroke finds himself trapped inside his own body with his left eye being the only part of him not paralyzed.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly begins with around 40 minutes seen as good as only from Jean-Do’s point of view which has a terrifying, almost claustrophobic, effect. By letting us see through his eye(s) while hearing his inner voices shouting for help, we get a rare insight into the frustration and horror of finding yourself trapped without a voice or movement, to a degree where watching the movie becomes uncomfortable. But even when we move outside Jean-Do’s body and switches between present time and the past before his stroke, the movie still delivers shocks to the system in the form of almost inhuman scenes, wherein an excellent cast delivers emotional and strong performances that, without many words, clearly show the difficult situations they are in and the sense of assault experienced by Bauby. But Schnabel’s (Before Night Falls, 2000) human way of showing the inhumanity makes it a very warm and life-affirming movie about a very inhuman situation; a contrast he also expertedly shows between Jean-Do’s past and present. The performance by Amalric (The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014) is absolutely mindblowing. Limited by Jean-Do’s condition he still manages to let us feel his emotions and is equally convincing as the larger-than-life editor as he is as the wheelchair-bound cripple. He has an incredibly emotional connection with especially the strong female supporting cast, led by a warm Consigny (A Christmas Tale, 2008) and a charming Croze (Munich, 2005), who together form the beating heart of the story, but also a subtle Seigner (Frantic, 1988), who especially amazes in a particular heart wrenching scene, where she is forced to deliver a message to her husband that is particularly hurtful for her. It speaks volumes for Schnabel’s expertise that he never loses our interest despite the lead ‘speaking’ by blinking at the right letter being spelled out to him. But The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has you captured through every up and down, accompanied by Bauby’s beautiful narration, amazing performances, and a rare insight into the loneliness, frustration, despair, and hope of someone with locked-in syndrome. Highly recommendable but not an easy watch.
The script was originally in English with Johnny Depp attached to play the lead. But after he had to drop out because of scheduling conflicts American director Julian Schnabel convinced the studio to change the language to French to stay true to Bauby’s life and story. The director learned French to direct the movie.
Picture copyright: Scanbox