Sunday, 17 February 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007, France/US, Julian Schnabel)

The remarkable story of Jean Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Almaric), who was able to dictate a biography comprised of his memories and imagination, through blinks after suffering a stroke, has been made into a remarkable film by Julian Schnabel, who won the best Director at Cannes for his efforts. Also nominated at this year's Academy Awards, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he won the award because on a technical level, this film is magnificent.

Mostly filmed from Bauby's point of view, with the camera literally feeling as if it is inside Bauby's eyes, observing the world as he wakes from his coma, Schnabel begins by filming totally out of focus to represent Bauby's disorientation after waking - the camerwork is fuzzy and blurred, superbly handled by Janusz Kaminski, who is best known as Steven Spielberg's DoP for the last decade or more.

Aided by his the mother of his children, his orthodontist and his physiotherapist (all of whom initially frustrate him because they're all incredibly beautiful), Bauby switches from self-pity and defeat to a resourceful and determined hero who refuses to let his condition overcome his life. This might sound like TV movie of the week material, but as those who have read the book know, it's incredibly affecting stuff.

It's to Schnabel and Ronald Harwood's credit that they don't alter Bauby's character to make him more sympathetic than he should be. We know he abandoned his family to embark on a series of affairs. He initially refuses help, wanting to die rather than remain alive for those who love him. But the book contract he had signed before his stroke provides him the opportunity to express himself through imagination and memory, the only working parts of his body besides his right eye. This gives him a zeal and reason to live. Despite the morose subject matter, this is one of the most life affirming films in recent memory. It's almost unbelievable to think this was almost made in Hollywood with Johnny Depp. You just can't picture it. 4/5

No comments: