THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY
DIRECTOR: Julian Schnabel
With Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Max Von Sydow, Anne Consigny, and some extras that ... could easily make this a who's that.
MUSIC: Music by Paul Cantelon (original music), with several songs from various artists floating through the whole film.
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Janusz Kaminski
ONE WORD: Don't be silly. See a really good movie instead of a top ten fiasco.
It's always reassuring when one goes to the cinema and comes away ... so stunned, and so moved, that it takes a while to figure out what you want to say to anyone, or to think about anything ... it's like one of those days, when your mind has really stopped and ... you have no idea where to start anything ... and this film, even if you have read the novel (which I have not) will probably stand up so well, that as far as this reviewer is concerned, why are movies being made?
Is it to simply make money?
Is it to say something?
Is it to depict someone, or something that we feel very particular about?
By the time you get to see this film, or even read the novel, I'm sure, there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that there were efforts on the Jean-Do's part, the nurse's part, the wife's part, the father's part ... with an eternal hope ... that could possibly uplift his spirit, and hopefully that it was all strong enough that it would help heal his body enough so he could eventually ... let's say ... live again. This is the story of Jean-Dominique Dauby, and how he was able to get his book dictated one letter at a time, and finish it ... while he is paralyzed and unable to move anything in his body, with the exception of his left eye.
Not many film makers are capable of blending the inner mind's thinking and the reality in front of those eyes, and Terry Gilliam comes to mind, but the way that Julian Schnabel put together this film, was what you might consider an act of grace ... an incredible ability to place detail in the right spot, and make a switch that is very difficult to do in film ... I can remember an instructor that had written for Stanley Kramer, and one of his favorite lines for the class was ... you can't jerk the audience around ... you have to make it clear and not shock them to the point of losing them.
Film has changed ... and the way that we share communication and abilities and ideas has changed since that time 50 years ago, when that thinking was more important. Specially in a country whose artistic traditions were mostly based on radio and then television ... not the history of the arts, be they whichever of the arts they are. As such, film in America has always had a very hard time in making "personal" films ... the story is almost always from a third person point of view, and almost all the cinematography is done from that perspective. And then you have a script like this one, and it is amazing that someone could so simply, and so easily blend things and what Jean-Do was thinking or seeing, and there are some wonderful moments ... from the quick shot of the soccer game that the doctor turns off and Jean-Do wants to see more of. The horrible frustration that you and I will feel in the total and complete inability to do, or say something is almost impossible to bear ... and yet, in this director's hands, while sometimes it appears a bit harsh, the transitions from those moments are generally smooth ... and in actuality, some of them work out as a bit of a relief, even if after a couple of them we know there is no way out.
I'm not sure that much can be said about the acting, in this film, and how well focused it is and how well directed it is in relation to each situation ... it's always nice to see shots from a small distance instead of the frustrating constant shot/crosshot situations used on television that make the whole picture and story so impersonal ... an invisible point of view, if you will. From Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Do to Emmanuelle Seigner as Celine to a couple of nurses, and specially the one taking dictation on the book, the father played by Max Von Sydow, the array of characters comes out smooth and none of the performances are showy and making an attempt to unbalance the strengths of the film.
One of the most amazing things in the film, and it is a subtle one, is the use of music in it. And the various songs that are used by Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer, U2 and others is so well blended in, and adds such an amazing atmosphere to the film, that it is not hard to see why it was nominated for so many awards. It is always a special treat when you get some music put in it, not a hit per se, but something that is not only special, but also fits the mood and the character and the moment ...
Julian Schnabel, had also directed another film that was very special in its own way. It became a sort of cult film, since it was such a personal look at an artist, and that film is "Basquiat" about the painter in NY during the 70's ... and like that film, the ability to have a respect and love for the art itself, is one of the greatest gifts that he can show us, and in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, it is hard not to feel that there is such a care for the ability to present this right, and make sure that the spirit of the book and the person is not lost ... and I am not sure that you and I can sit here, and think ... that it was not good, or that it was not amazing, and that it was not shocking in some way, specially if you and I went into it not knowing what this is all about, which admittedly I did.
With some really nice camera work and some really well done transitions, the one that will get you the most is towards the end ... it is, in a way, the crowning achievement of what a great film maker can do, and how he can respect the art form, and specially the art behind it all. If anything, this is art at work, and I am not sure that there are any other words to describe this film with.
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