The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Year: 2007
Studio: Pathé
Director: Julian Schnabel
Writer: Ronald Harwood/Jean-Dominique Bauby
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Max von Sydow, Marina Hands
As well as being emotionally affecting you've probably heard how technically well made this film is. How do you portray a character with 'locked-in' syndrome from the character's point of view?

After a massive stroke, former French Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby was rendered completely paralysed in every part of his body apart from his left eyelid, and in Julian Schnabel's award baiting film we spend the first forty minutes or so slowly emerging from Jean-Dominique himself as the story evolves.

Soon-to-be Bond baddie Amalric plays Bauby, and the film starts with his blurred vision staring out from his all-but comatose body as doctors and nurses try to explain what's happened to him. Slowly he reaches milestones like being carried to a wheelchair to be taken outdoors while two nurses embark on a long and seemingly pointless process of rehabilitation, painstakingly teaching him to speak and move again.

And all we hear from Bauby are his thoughts, at first not understanding why nobody can hear him, unaware that he's only thinking but not speaking. To begin with he wishes only to die, refusing to let his children see him in such a condition, and life is made even more painful by the mistress he truly loves refusing to visit him until the agonising phone call where his estranged wife must translate how much he misses his lover when she finally calls him in hospital.

The movie is a true story based on the book Bauby finished not long before his death in 1997, and it depicts the transcribing of it by the nurse and then a dedicated secretary who had to learn his system of communicating - the reading out of common letters waiting for him to blink to indicate the letter he wants to spell out his message.

That anyone can withstand such a painstaking process is not just a testament to the life Bauby was forced to live but the women who took it all down. Like Bauby himself must have, you'll hear the French alphabet in your head long after the movie's over.

The gradual emergence from the film of Amalric's face is both an interesting and powerful creative device. We start the film locked in Bauby's body with him and as we move outside into the world we get only fleeting glimpses of Amalric until the flashbacks that tell us how he got to where he is, living an enviable life with his aging father (von Sydow), cute kids and women who love him.

Essential viewing for students of the art of cinema. You'll never believe a movie screen can make you feel claustrophobic until you're looking out of a single eye being stitched slowly shut to save it from infection.

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