Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

16 Dec

In which Rebecca becomes an astounded film critic for the evening

Down and out in Paris, London….and now New York – which means there’s time enough to devote to preferred leisure activities, like watching bleak French films,  amidst the dreary, soulless round of job hunting.

Leisure time productively spent of late watching on the remarkable “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (on DVD) – the true tale of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of French Elle, who suddenly and inexplicably becomes fully paralysed from head to toe at the age of 43.

This condition, known as “locked-in syndrome”, leaves him fully cognisant but able to communicate solely through the last remaining muscle working in his ravaged body – by blinking his undamaged right eye.

Based on the novel with the same name by Bauby himself (which he dictated entirely through this blinking method), Julian Schnabel’s film is a haunting piece of art, delving into the mind of a man who perhaps for the first time in his life, forced by horrific circumstances to grind to a horrific halt, is finally at liberty to explore his inner voice. No longer the man-about-town, urbane, in-demand magazine editor, Bauby (played remarkably by Mathieu Amalric) realises the only two things not permanently altered by his paralysis are his imagination and his memory.

Never allowing a maudlin, Hollywoodish sentimentality to set in, the film tells Bauby’s tale with elegance as well as unexpected splashes of humour.

Schnabel skilfully and artistically plays with the first-person voice by allowing the viewer a privileged look-in on Bauby’s locked-in world. We hear his inaudible voice, we see all the happenings around his hospital bed out of his right eye, we watch from the inside of this tiny window as he interacts with the people around him, and we witness the visual richness of his imagination and his dream-world.

Nothing like a tragedy to get us mere mortals to start asking questions about what’s really important in life – and this man uses his own tragedy to do just that.

Watch this film (and read the book).

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