Tag Archives: Julian Schnabel

IMDB Top 250: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) continues…

Among the 8 films I have been able to watch pertaining to my top 250 challenge, none other has left a bigger impression on me as the wonderful french movie “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” by director Julian Schnabel.

The movie is based on a true story that depicts the horrible fate of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of the French Elle magazine. One day a successful and womanizing business man, and the next a man who has suffered a massive stroke that has rendered him almost completely paralyzed. We meet him at the hospital, struggling to wake up from a coma. Soon, a parade of doctors and nurses hover above him and we realize that he is still a completely rational man who is trapped inside his “diving bell” of a body with only his left eye left to communicate with others. He blinks once to say yes, twice to say no, and repeatedly to express a more specific desire. The viewer spends a good part of the movie inside him looking out, sharing, to some extent, the sense of claustrophobia and helplessness Bauby must have had to endure.

The director, Julian Schnabel, treats the story without grand gestures or manufactured uplifting moments. Schnabel’s effectiveness in this film comes from his simple and honest depiction of great adversity. We get to inhabit Bauby’s paralyzed body, relive some of his memories in order to understand the man before the tragedy, and we take part in the asphyxiating situation he is in. Schnable trusts the power of his story to speak for itself. Bauby is a tragedy but also a triumph since he was able, against all odds, to compose a memoir using only his left eye to blink as a nurse recited the alphabet, painstakingly constructing words.

Of course, the movie would have floundered if it wasn’t for a simply wonderful cast. Mathieu Amalric, whose performance as Bauby, is as complex and accomplished as I have ever seen. Almaric embodies the spirit of a free man who loves life as convincingly as he captures the painful reality of Bauby’s paralysis. His father, played by Max Von Sydow is equally moving and wonderful. The rest of the cast acts in a manner that is so natural and honest that it allows us to forget we are watching a film.
Released in 2007, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly enriched a rare year for movies that was full of quality films. This wonderful French movie greatly deserves its place among the best that year but also among the best films of all time.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (masterpiece)