Combustible Celluloid
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With: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, Patrick Chesnais, Niels Arestrup, Olatz López Garmendia, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Marina Hands, Max von Sydow, Isaach De Bankolé, Emma de Caunes, Jean-Philippe Écoffey, Gérard Watkins, Nicolas Le Riche, François Delaive, Anne Alvaro, Françoise Lebrun
Written by: Ronald Harwood, based on a novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Directed by: Julian Schnabel
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for nudity, sexual content and some language
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 112
Date: 05/22/2007

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Eyeball & Chain

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I went into The Diving Bell and the Butterfly with a huge chip on my shoulder, for three reasons. Firstly, it's a disease-of-the-week film, a genre that usually whollops audiences on the head with outsized emotions and never uses the medium to convey anything personal. Secondly, I was not a fan of director Julian Schnabel, whose first and second films, Basquiat (1996) and Before Night Falls (2000), I did not like. And finally, this was a French film about a French character directed by an American. These three things could only result in disaster, but within ten minutes the film had effortlessly knocked that chip from my shoulder. This is a very, very good film.

Mathieu Amalric (Kings & Queen) plays Jean-Dominique Bauby, or "Jean-Do" for short, the chic editor of Elle magazine, living life on the fast track. He suffers a stroke and finds himself almost totally paralyzed, able to move only his left eye. This is the story of how he managed to write a book; that book was then adapted into this movie.

Screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Pianist, Being Julia) and Schnabel stage large portions of the film from Jean-Do's point of view; his eye tracks around the room, he blinks and we can "hear" his thoughts. It seems like a terribly risky way to shoot a film, much like Robert Montgomery's failed Lady in the Lake (1947), but it works.

It works mainly because the film gives us plenty of "breaks" in the form of flashbacks -- one particularly good one co-stars Max von Sydow as Jean-Do's father -- as well as the film's lightness of touch. Jean-Do has a wonderfully wry sense of humor, and his narration -- unheard by the characters on the screen -- comically juxtaposes their actions. Moreover, the film features half a dozen astoundingly gorgeous actresses who spend most of the film gazing lovingly into the camera; it's hard not to be swept away.

DVD Details: Miramax's DVD comes with the much hoped-for making-of featurettes and a commetary track by Schnabel, as well as a Charlie Rose interview with Schnabel. There's also an option to watch the film dubbed into English (or Spanish), as well as in the original French.

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