Thursday, 11 August 2011

Places: France/Films and cinema: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007, Julian Schnabel).

Sourced from the Wikipedia page 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (film)'...because I live dangerously...

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le scaphandre et le papillon) is a 2007 biographical drama film based on Jean-Dominique Bauby's memoir of the same name. The film depicts Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke, on December 8, 1995, at the age of 42, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyzed him from the neck down. Although both eyes worked, doctors decided to sew up his right eye as it was not irrigating properly and they were worried that it would become infected. He was left with only his left eye and the only way that he could communicate was by blinking his left eyelid.
The film was directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Ronald Harwood, and stars Mathieu Amalric as Bauby. It won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs and the César Awards as well as four Academy Award nominations.


The first third of the film is told from the main character's, Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), or Jean-Do as his friends call him, first person perspective. The film opens as Bauby wakes from his three-week coma in a hospital in Berck-sur-Mer, France. After an initial rather over-optimistic analysis from one doctor, a neurologist explains that he has locked-in syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the patient is almost completely physically paralyzed, but remains mentally normal. At first, the viewer primarily hears Bauby's "thoughts" (he thinks he is speaking but no-one hears him), which are inaccessible to the other characters, and are seen through his one functioning eye.
A speech therapist and physical therapist try to help Bauby become as functional as possible. Bauby cannot speak, but he develops a system of communication with his speech and language therapist by blinking his left eye as she reads a list of letters to laboriously spell out his messages, letter by letter.
Gradually, the film's restricted point of view broadens out, and the viewer begins to see Bauby from 'outside', in addition to experiencing incidents from his past, including a visit to Lourdes. He also fantasizes, imagining beaches, mountains, the Empress Eugénie, and an erotic feast with his therapist. It is revealed that Bauby had been editor of the popular French fashion magazine Elle, and that he had a deal to write a book (which was originally going to be based on "The Count of Monte Cristo" but from a female perspective). He decides that he will still write a book, using his slow and exhausting communication technique. A woman from a publishing house with which Bauby had the original book contract is brought in to take dictation.
The new book explains what it is like to now be him, trapped in his body, which he sees as being within an old-fashioned deep-sea diving suit with a brass helmet, which in French is called a scaphandre, as in the original title. However, others around see his spirit, still alive, as a "Butterfly".
The story of Bauby's writing is juxtaposed with his recollections and regrets until his stroke. We see the mother of his three children (whom he never married), his children, his mistress, his friends, and his father. He encounters people from his past whose lives bear similarities to his own "entrapment": a friend who was kidnapped in Beirut and held in solitary confinement for four years, and his own 92-year-old father, who is confined to his own apartment, because he is too frail to descend four flights of stairs.
Bauby eventually completes his memoir and hears the critics' responses. However, he dies of pneumonia ten days after its publication.


  • Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • Emmanuelle Seigner as Céline Desmoulins
  • Anne Consigny as Claude Mendibil
  • Marie-Josée Croze as Henriette Durand
  • Olatz López Garmendia as Marie Lopez
  • Patrick Chesnais as Dr. Lepage
  • Max von Sydow as Mr. Bauby Sr.
  • Isaach De Bankolé as Laurent
  • Marina Hands as Joséphine
  • Niels Arestrup as Roussin
  • Emma de Caunes as Empress Eugénie


Although made in France with a French-speaking cast, the film was originally to be produced by the American company Universal Studios, and the screenplay was originally in English, with Johnny Depp slated to star as Bauby. According to the screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, the choice of Julian Schnabel as director was recommended by Depp. However, Universal subsequently withdrew, and Pathé took up the project two years later. Depp dropped the project due to scheduling conflicts with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Schnabel remained as director. The film was eventually produced by Pathé and France 3 Cinéma, in association with Banque Populaire Images 7 and the American Kennedy/Marshall Company, and in participation with Canal+ and Ciné Cinémas.
Schnabel said his influence for the film was drawn from personal experience. "My father got sick and he was dying. He was terrified of death and had never been sick in his life. So he was in this bed at my house, he was staying with me, and this script arrived for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. As my father was dying, I read Ron Harwood’s script. It gave me a bunch of parameters that would make a film have a totally different structure. As a painter, as someone who doesn’t want to make a painting that looks like the last one I made, I thought it was a really good palette. So personally and artistically these things all came together."
According to the New York Sun, Schnabel insisted that the movie should be in French, resisting pressure by the production company to make it in English, believing that the rich language of the book would work better in the original French, and even went so far as to learn French to make the film. Harwood tells a slightly different story: Pathé wanted "to make the movie in both English and French, which is why bilingual actors were cast"; he continues that "Everyone secretly knew that two versions would be impossibly expensive", and that "Schnabel decided it should be made in French".
Several aspects of Bauby's personal life were fictionalized in Schnabel's film, most notably his relationships with the mother of his children and his girlfriend.

Critical reception

The film received universal acclaim from critics; as of 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported 94% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 142 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 92 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.

Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.
  • 1st
    • Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post
    • Carina Chocano, Los Angeles Times (tied with The Savages)
    • David Edelstein, New York magazine
    • Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
    • Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
    • Kevin Crust, Los Angeles Times
    • Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
    • Kyle Smith, New York Post
    • Lawrence Toppman, The Charlotte Observer
  • 2nd
    • Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times
    • Lou Lumenick, New York Post
    • Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune
    • Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor
    • Fredrik Gunerius Fevang, The Fresh Films
  • 3rd
    • Dana Stevens, Slate
    • Desson Thomson, The Washington Post
    • Liam Lacey and Rick Groen, The Globe and Mail
    • Stephanie Zacharek, Salon
    • Stephen Farber, The Hollywood Reporter
    • Stephen Holden, The New York Times
    • Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer
  • 4th
    • Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter
  • 5th
    • Andrew O'Hehir, Salon
    • Ty Burr, The Boston Globe
  • 6th
    • James Berardinelli, ReelViews
    • Glenn Kenny, Premiere
    • Peter Vonder Haar, Film Threat
  • 7th
    • A. O. Scott, The New York Times (tied with Into the Wild)
    • David Ansen, Newsweek
    • Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
    • Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald
    • Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter

Awards and nominations

The film premiered in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on May 22, where Schnabel won the Award for Best Director. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and won a BAFTA award as such as two César Awards. Schnabel also won Best Director at the 65th Golden Globe Awards, where the film won Best Foreign Language Film. Because the film was produced by an American company, it was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

  • 61st BAFTA Awards
    • BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay
  • 65th Golden Globe Awards
    • Best Foreign Language Film
    • Best Director - Motion Picture (Julian Schnabel)
  • 60th Cannes Film Festival
    • Best Director
    • Technical Grand Prize
  • César Awards 2008
    • Best Actor (Mathieu Amalric)
    • Best Editing (Juliette Welfling)
  • National Board of Review
    • Best Foreign Film
  • Boston Society of Film Critics
    • Best Director
    • Best Cinematography
    • Best Foreign Language Film
  • New York Film Critics Online
    • Best Picture (tie with There Will Be Blood)
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association
    • Best Picture (runner-up)
    • Best Director (runner-up)
    • Best Foreign Language Film (runner-up)
    • Best Cinematography
  • Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association
    • Best Foreign Language Film
  • San Francisco Film Critics Circle
    • Best Foreign Language Film
  • American Film Institute Awards
    • Top Ten AFI Movies of the Year
  • Satellite Awards
    • Best Cinematography
  • The EDA Awards
    • Best Editing
    • Best Foreign Film
    • Outstanding Achievement By A Woman In 2007
  • Toronto Film Critics Association
    • Best Foreign Film (runner-up)
  • 80th Academy Awards
    • Best Director (Julian Schnabel)
    • Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood)
    • Best Cinematography (Janusz Kamiński)
    • Best Film Editing (Juliette Welfling)
  • 60th Cannes Film Festival
    • Golden Palm (Julian Schnabel)
  • 65th Golden Globe Awards
    • Best Screenplay - Motion Picture (Ronald Harwood)
  • César Awards 2008
    • Best Film (Jérôme Seydoux and Julian Schnabel)
    • Best Director (Julian Schnabel)
    • Best Adaptation (Ronald Harwood)
    • Best Cinematography (Janusz Kamiński)
    • Best Sound (Dominique Gaborieau)
Directors Guild of America Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
*After watching 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly', I was not only blown away by the beauty and character of the film, but by the fascinating, true life story which it reveals- a story unfathomable, brave and extraordinary. The book is on my Amazon wish-list, and if it's half as good as the film I will be a very happy Sophie indeed. A definate recommendation from me.

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