Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The (2007)

4 stars

Julian Schnabel’s work here is sublime and powerful, so is his lead actor Mathieu Amalric in one of 2007’s finest performances.

Dir. Julian Schnabel
2007 | France | Biography/Drama | 112 mins | 1.85: 1 | French
NC16 (passed clean) for nudity, sexual content and some language

Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze
Plot: The true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body; only his left eye isn’t paralyzed.
Awards: Won Best Director (Cannes). Won 2 Golden Globes – Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film. Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing.
International Sales: Pathe

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate/Inspiring
Narrative Style: Complex/Refreshing
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse


Review #250

(Reviewed in theatres – first published 21 Jan 2008)

Spoilers: No

Artist-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is like poetry in motion. It’s occasionally superfluous, indulging in unconventional storytelling techniques such as through the first-person viewpoint, reality-fantasy interplay, and repetitive images of a particular significant object. It seems fuzzy and disconcerting at the initial stage, but it eventually grows on appreciative viewers who demand their film experience to be other than ordinary.

Schnabel won the Golden Globe for Best Director, an extraordinary feat considering the fact he had to slug it out with front-runners of that year, the Coens and Ridley Scott. Viewing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an understated joy; being primarily a true heart-wrenching biographical film of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a popular magazine editor whose body is completely paralyzed except for a blinking left eye, it’s surprisingly light-hearted and inspirational.

Director Julian Schnabel learned French to make the film.

Mathieu Amalric’s performance as Bauby is nothing short of amazing. Such a demanding role that requires physical discipline, and mental toughness could not have been accomplished with a pinch of salt. The effort put in by Amalric is deserving of at least an Oscar nomination (wake up, Academy members!).

The first third of the film is almost entirely seen through the left eye of Dominique, with his thoughts echoing out aloud in the midst of cross-talk by the rest of the cast – this technique is a breath of fresh air, showcasing superb screenplay and direction.

Equally commendable is the cinematography by Oscar-winner Janusz Kaminski (Steven Spielberg’s regular collaborator) – it is sharp, focused, and is deeply relevant to the narrative aspect of the film. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is one of 2007’s best foreign films, a highly encouraging motion picture that aptly answers the question: Is my life worth living for?

Grade: A-



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