VOD film review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Ivan Radford | On 26, Jul 2016
Director: Julian Schnabel
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner
Watch Diving Bell and the Butterfly online in the UK: MUBI UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play / Sky Store
Telling the true story of a man who lived with locked-in syndrome, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly turns one man’s voice-over into a moving source of sorrow and well-judged humour.
Ronald Harwood’s screenplay is based on the memoirs of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Amalric), Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon, and that direct, personal account of Elle’s former editor makes every moment brutally truthful. Bauby suffered a stroke at the age of 43, subsequently finding himself incapable of movement, except for his left eye. When he announces his intention to write his memoirs, the outlook is considerably bleak, as he faces the prospect of blinking in response to a repeated recitation of the alphabet?
And yet, director Julian Schnabel constructs something powerfully cinematic out of not only his words but also that painstaking process. Reaching heights of fantastical imagery before plummeting to depressing depths, the inner monologue of Jean-Do is wonderfully lyrical: “What kind of vegetable am I? A carrot? A pickle?” Accompanied by striking visuals from DoP Janusz Kaminski, which often boldly adopt Bauby’s perspective, the juxtaposition of imagination and reality blends into a stunning harmony of the two. At times, the screen even begins to blur as Jean-Do breaks down into tears.
Performed evocatively by Mathieu Amalric, a touching chemistry forms between Bauby and those around him. His nurse (the excellent Marie-Josée Croze) reads from a slate of letters with a devoted, engaging sincerity, while his ex-wife, Celine (Seigner) highlighting his flaws with equal dedication, as she struggles to relay conversations between Jean-Do and the new woman in his life. Amid all of this, Max Von Sydow delivers a moving supporting performance as Bauby’s father, also trapped by his own physical condition. Welling up with emotion in flashback or over the phone, the exchanges between these magnificent actors are truly sublime.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.
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