Saturday, May 3, 2008

Film Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
*** 1\2 (out of ****)

Films like "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" give one hope and make you feel glad to be alive and appreciate what you have in life. That may make this film sound overly sentimental or cliche but not in this film's case. Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a beautifully told story done with delicacy and passion.

The film is based on a true story of a man who became paralyzed from head to toe, yet luckily his brain did not shut done. The condition is known as "locked-in syndrome". He remains unable to speak and as a result cannot communicate. That is until a speech therapist has devised a system where by blinking his eye he could find ways to express himself. Someone must simply go through the alphabet and when the desired word is said he must blink until a word or sentence is formed. If that alone is not remarkable through this system the man is able to write a book, a memoir. This is that book which was adapted by Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist", "Being Julia").

The man was Jean-Dominique Babuby (Mathieu Amalric), a former editor of "Elle" magazine. Babuby was not a perfect man. He had many flaws. He never married the mother of his children, Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), he had numerous love affairs and was considered to be, at times, selfish. But after his stroke one of the greatest things Babuby regrets is now his inability to right his wrongs. He can never utter the words "I love you" again or "I'm sorry".

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" takes us inside Babuby's mind. He is the film's narrator as we hear his personal thoughts. By doing this it is the film's best way to make the viewer feel the what Babuby does. Much of the movie is presented through Babuby's point of view. The camera becomes his eyes. It was the only technique Schnabel had available to him to help the viewer going into this man's mind and have us relate to him.

The film also uses flashbacks to show us Babuby's past relationships with women, his children and his father (Max von Sydow). This also adds to the film's sentimentality as we see a man who enjoyed life and is now reduced to being dependent upon others.

Julian Schnabel's film managed to win some Oscar nominations including "best director", "screenplay" and "cinematography" but sadly no "best actor" nomination for Amalric. In a year when all anyone could talk about was Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" other great performances got pushed aside. This was one of them. Amalric's performance makes the film. It was a challenging role not being able to fully physically express himself. He could not use any dialogue, hand gestures or body language of any kind. Yet the film conveys emotion, Amalric finds a connection to the audience.

In a year I felt was overshadowed by over hyped films such as "Juno", "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men", "the Diving Bell and the Butterfly" got a little lost in the shuffle. Too bad. This is one of those films which can change your outlook on life.