Posts Tagged ‘Mathieu Amalric’



March 28, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Matt: 4 stars

Length: 112 min

Let your imagination set you free.

Précis: This portrait of a completely paralysed yet conscious man is made with great intelligence and is surprisingly uplifting.

Review by Matt:

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby (played here by Mathieu Amalric), the editor of France’s Elle Magazine and a swinging hedonist, suffered a massive stroke that left him almost completely paralysed. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly dramatises this event. As the film begins, Bauby awakens in a Parisian hospital and discovers that the swinging hedonism is well and truly lost. He can only move a single eye. Bauby has what is known as ‘locked in syndrome’. His mind is fully functioning but he is trapped in his paralysed body.

Like Edgar Allan Poe’s nightmarish story The Cask of Amontillado, in which a hapless chap is bricked up alive in a deep unvisited cellar, you would think it would be difficult for this film to overcome the innate horror of its premise. Or at least it might be pretty tedious: body in bed blinks a lot; family watch sadly. It is sad, and slightly horrific, but The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also fascinating and uplifting. It’s an amazing artistic achievement. The director, New York artist Julian Schnabel, smartly chose to tackle the subject by diving inside the paralysed Bauby and releasing his thoughts and memories. For much of the film we get the unique experience of sharing Bauby’s point of view – the camera is Bauby, and its eyelid flutters as Bauby’s does. This could distract some viewers, but I found it interesting and immersive. In addition we hear Bauby’s inner voice commenting, lamenting, regretting, lusting, wisecracking. The plot is not too linear. Instead we experience episodes involving Bauby’s family, friends and nurses, as well as dramatisations of his fantasies and recollections. Without being insensitive to its subject, the film is often quite funny as we experience Bauby’s lively mind.

But Diving Bell and the Butterfly is also inescapably sad in parts. Max Von Sydow is outstanding and poignant, as he as consistently been ever since he pooh-poohed Death in Ingmar Berman’s famous The Seventh Seal. Here he is Bauby’s ailing father, and his additions to the film’s landscape of emotions are the most touching. Emmanuelle Seigne is also sad and superb as Bauby’s estranged wife, tangled in one of life’s complex knots of love and suffering.

Mathieu Amalric also gives a moving performance as Bauby. There is an extreme contrast between the pathetic and bedridden Bauby and the vibrant pre-stroke Bauby. What quickly becomes evident though is that Bauby’s spark wasn’t crushed with his body. It is now simply trapped inside him like a diver in a sunken diving bell. With the help of a speech therapist (Marie-Josee Croze), Bauby is able to use a system of communication using only his blinking eye. Though agonizingly slow, this method not only allows him to communicate his thoughts, but also to complete the incredible feat of dictating a memoir (which was published in France in 1997). Bauby may have made plenty of mistakes during his man-about-town years but, as the film highlights, like all of us he has an indestructible human essence that is capable of greatness.

Although it’s consistently interesting and has many moments of beauty, this is not an explosive tale so you should be prepared for a longish ride. It occasionally seemed to stretch on just a bit. But that is overshadowed by the film’s great intelligence and originality. Its tapestry of overlapping events and emotions is an honest portrait of life, broaching people’s fallibility as well as the greatness of our humanity. It’s moving and often intense. Possibly you will find parts of it devastating. Yet, despite the considerable restrictions of the subject matter and the story, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is much lighter than you’d imagine. Amazingly, by the end it has formed an elevating picture about the wholeness of life.