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The Best of 2007: 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has most likely one of the most refreshing vantage points in direction I have seen in a while. This film, nominated for a Best Directing Oscar for Julian Schnabel, is mostly for the better first act of this film seen only through the point of view of our protagonist. This means that we seen him closing his eyes, his eyes becoming blurry, his eyes having trouble adjusting to bright lights, and people constantly looking into his face (or our faces in the audience) or stepping away from his point of view. The reason why this is so important to this true life story of former Elle editor 'Jean-Do' Bauby lies in the fact that his entire body had become paralyzed for the exception of being able to blink and slightly move his left eye, so everything lies in his ability to use this last remnant of a sense.

The film crosscuts between his present and past as we see Bauby mistreat people around him from his business partners to his family only to have to rely on them heavily in his current handicapped state. The entire film paints a very fascinating portrait of a changed man physically and mentally as he paints his own portrait of himself by having his nurse, co-writer, and ex-wife put together all the words (created only by him blinking to acknowledge letters in the alphabet dictated by who is ever helping him-- think how long that would take just to make one sentence!) needed to make a book about his life currently. The film vividly captures Bauby's endless but understandable thoughts through narration as well as his nightmares of his past and the dreams of freedom over his disability through a wonderful script by Ronald Harwood who originally wrote the script in English, but it was Schnabel who had it entirely translated into French to keep it consistent with Bauby's world in his native France. This explains why the subtitles read so well in English.

Mathieu Amalric does a remarkable job of playing the very sympathetic magazine editor obviously spending careful consideration into what he does with this unmovable face while trying to give one bit of glimmer in this one eye. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, a constant cohort of Spielberg's, gives Bauby's vantage points a wonderful array of beauty, ugliness, honesty, and surrealism with his wonderful camera work. If it weren't for his ability to make Schnabel's ideas work, the film wouldn't have had any degree of effectiveness. The film also stars great French actor Jean-Pierre Cassel of 1974's Murder on the Orient Express and Richard Lester's Musketeers films in one of his last film roles (Cassel died just last year), Max von Sydow of Bergman's great Swedish classics as well as The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Exorcist, Never Say Never Again, and recently Minority Report, and Marie-Josée Croze from Maelstrom and Spielberg's Munich all giving remarkable performances.