Monday, December 08, 2014

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Based on the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, Le scaphandre et le papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is the story about the famed editor of Elle magazine who suffered a stroke at the age of 43 where he would become paralyzed as the only part of his body that moves is his left eye as he would tell his own story from that eye. Directed by Julian Schnabel and screenplay by Ronald Harwood, the film is an unconventional bio-pic as Mathieu Almaric plays the role of Bauby from the man who had a charmed life as he later succumbs to paralysis as he copes with the remaining days of his life. Also starring Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny, Isaach de Bankole, and Max von Sydow. Le scaphandre et le papillon is a majestic yet rapturous film from Julian Schnabel.

In 1995 at the age of 43 while driving with his son, Jean-Dominique Bauby suffers a stroke as he wakes up three weeks later realizing he is paralyzed as the only thing he can see and feel is from his left eye. Throughout the course of the film, Bauby would use his eye to communicate with the help of a kind nurse in Henrietta (Marie-Josee Croze) through a series of letters that are used frequently where Bauby would write his memoir with the help of an editor in Claude (Anne Consigny) as he would reflect on his own life as well as his own life with his ex-girlfriend Celine Desmoulins (Emmanuelle Seigner) and their three children. Bauby also talks about the day of his stroke and his meeting with his father (Max von Sydow) as he begins to contemplate about the days he has left in his own life.

Ronald Harwood’s screenplay definitely plays with a back-and-forth narrative structure of sorts since it is told largely from Bauby’s perspective about the life he had as well as the life he is having as a paralyzed man. Much of it would involve aspects of what Bauby did as well as his frustrations of having to live where his left eye is the only thing that is working as he thinks about sex and football. The film’s title serves as a metaphor for the life that Bauby is in as it would appear in a series of surrealistic things that are playing in his head including things that aren’t from his time as Harwood uses a lot of voice-over narration to play into Bauby and his struggles. Even as he reveals flaws into who he is as a person as he is someone that is very selfish and sleeps around with various woman as he even fantasizes about the women who are helping him. Upon knowing that he’s got a limited amount of time, the self-reflective approach to the narrative not only helps Bauby but display someone who is trying to find some kind of redemption as the script allows him to do that.

Julian Schnabel’s direction is truly mesmerizing for the way he shoots nearly half of the film from Bauby’s perspective as if the camera is playing the role of Bauby’s left eye. There’s elements of hand-held cameras with blurry edges to play into that idea that the camera is Bauby where it shows an idea of how he is feeling and how he is coping with being paralyzed. Scenes shot outside of the eye has this sense of style in the way Schnabel he shoots photo shoots as well as scenes on the beach where Bauby is surrounded by his children. The scenes involving Bauby and his father are among the most intimate and powerful to showcase this relationship that is quite unique as they’re both going through some form of illness. Schnabel’s approach to metaphoric images are entrancing as it plays to some of the surreal elements in the film yet they do make sense into what Bauby is dealing with as he is a man coping with death and aspect of his own charmed but troubled life. Even as Schnabel creates compositions and framing devices to play into the man’s final days as it showcases the kind of life that Bauby had and how he refused to die without making some kind of difference. Overall, Schnabel creates a very enthralling yet intoxicating film about a man dealing with death as the only part in his body with any sense of life is his left eye.

Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski does incredible work with the film‘s cinematography from the usage of colors and lights for the scenes shot from the perspective of the eye with some scratchy blurs and images to some of the interior/exterior scenes including the use of gorgeous colors and lights for a sequence at Lourdes where Bauby is intrigued by elements of spirituality. Editor Juliette Welfing does amazing work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts as well as creating a few montages and other stylistic cuts to play into Bauby‘s dizzying life. Production designers Michel Eric and Laurent Ott do brilliant work with the look of the hospital room and its hallways including some very mesmerizing scenes of shops at the city of Lourdes.

Costume designer Olivier Beriot does nice work with the costumes from the casual clothes of the main characters to some period clothing presented in a few surrealistic scenes in Bauby‘s head. Sound editor Francis Wargnier, with mixer Dominique Gaborieau and recordist Jean-Paul Mugel, does fantastic work with the sound to create textures into Bauby‘s narration as well as what he might be hearing in his head along with some of the atmosphere in the locations. The film’s music by Paul Cantelon is wonderful as it’s mostly low-key with its plaintive piano score to play into the different moods of the film while Schnabel supervises the film’s soundtrack that features music from the Velvet Underground, Tom Waits, U2, Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros, Charles Trenet, Emmanuelle Seigner with Ultra, and the Dirtbombs.

The film’s phenomenal ensemble cast includes some notable appearances from Lenny Kravitz as himself in a photo shoot, photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Michael Wincott, Jean-Pierre Cassel in a dual role as a Lourdes vendor and a friend of Bauby, Elvis Polanski as a young Bauby, Gerard Watkins as a doctor, Marina Hands as Bauby’s Lourdes’ date Josephine, Niels Arestrup and Isaach de Bankole as friends of Bauby who visits him, Agathe de La Fontaine as his mistress Ines, Olata Lopez Garmendia as a therapist, Patrick Chenais as the doctor who would tell Bauby his condition, Emma de Caunes in a fantasy version of Empress Eugenie, and as the trio of Bauby’s children with Desmoulins, there’s Theo Sampaio, Fiorella Campanella, and Talina Boyaci. Max von Sydow is brilliant as Bauby’s father as a man who hopes for his son to go into a better path as he also copes with his own stroke.

Emmanuelle Seigner is excellent as Bauby’s ex-girlfriend Celine Desmoulins who is the mother of his three children as she reconnects with him in the wake of his illness as she provides the reasons for him to be faithful. Anne Consigny is amazing as Claude who would help Bauby write his memoir as he is intrigued by her beauty. Marie-Josee Croze is fantastic as the nurse Henriette Durand who would be the one to communicate with him through an alphabet system that she would perfect as she would help others in communicating with him. Finally, there’s Mathieu Almaric in a magnificent performance as Jean-Dominique Bauby as he brings a sense of cool and charm to the man in his prime as well as a selfishness and confusion. When he’s paralyzed, Almaric maintains a restraint to his role where he uses his own left eye to do the performance as it’s just astonishing to watch.

Le scaphandre et le papillon is an outstanding film from Julian Schnabel as it features a phenomenal performance from Mathieu Almaric as Jean-Dominique Bauby. Along with a great supporting cast, some amazing technical work from Janusz Kaminski and Juliette Welfing, Ronald Harwood’s screenplay, and a mesmerizing soundtrack. The film is definitely very unconventional in terms of its presentation as well as creating something that feels very engaging in a way a man deals with mortality. In the end, Le scaphandre et le papillon is a tremendously powerful film from Julian Schnabel.

Julian Schnabel Films: Basquiat - Before Night Falls - Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse - Miral - At Eternity's Gate - The Auteurs #43: Julian Schnabel

© thevoid99 2014


Dan said...

This is such a remarkable story, and I'm amazed at all how it translated into a film. It was more exciting and not dreary like I expected.

Dell said...

What a wonderful movie, this is. On the surface, it sounds unfilmable. However, it works big time. Great review.

Brittani Burnham said...

I think this movie is genius in the way it was shot, but it was so sad. I don't think I could watch it again, but it's great no doubt. Nice review!

thevoid99 said...

@Dan-I agree. It was way better than I thought it would be and certainly needs to be on the Criterion Collection.

@Wendell Ottley-It should've been something unfilmable but this why I so adore Julian Schnabel.

@Brittani Burnham-As sad as it was, it was a story that I think is very powerful as you end up loving the guy. Flaws and all.