The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Dir. Julian Schnabel
Premiered at Cannes May 22, 2007

This movie is a nightmare. A good movie, but a nightmare nonetheless.

A true story, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor of the fashion magazine Elle, experiences what seems to be a stroke during a weekend visit to his children. In actuality, his condition is much worse; he has lost the use of his brainstem, and can only communicate by blinking his left eye. Trapped in a useless body in the far corner of Nord Pas-de-Calais, he nonetheless uses his limited ability to dictate a book on the experience.

Directed by American painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is at once an inspiring and horrifying window into the fate of a talented and charming man, but nonetheless someone who would not be known by name if he had not made the incredible effort to express his experience. Schnabel occasionally lapses into haute-cinema randomness and it’s not my kind of movie overall, but I can’t say it didn’t have an effect.

Signs This Was Made in 2007
The soundtrack? Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography? I’m not sure.

Additional Notes
Jean-Do’s father is played by Max Von Sydow. How many languages does he speak anyway?
Two men from the phone company make a joke at Jean-Do’s expense. Henriette is offended on his behalf, but Jean-Do thinks it’s funny.

How Did It Do?
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly won Best Director and the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes. It wasn’t released in the US until 2008, but in accordance with Cannes rules, it did go wide in France during the festival. It grossed $19.8 million dollars worldwide against a €10.8 million budget. Unfortunately, the value of the Euro was soaring out of control at this time while the US Dollar was worth less its Canadian counterpart for the first time ever, so it couldn’t make its money back.

Nevertheless, it persisted. Because all the critics saw it before it went wide in the US, it managed to make a bunch of top-ten lists; at least nine critics in nationally-syndicated papers rated it the best movie of 2007. My friend Diego Crespo at AudiencesEverywhere agrees, and I think he’s nuts. It also got a ton of awards recognition, including four Oscar nominations (Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing) but no wins.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly did not have the legacy for its director or star that you’d expect from that, though. Schnabel has kept directing, though his first three films (Basquiat, Before Night Falls, and this) are still way more famous and popular than the two he’s done since (Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse and Miral). Likewise, Matthieu Amalric landed a huge role as the villain in the next Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, yet did not parlay that into the level of fame or name recognition of any other actor who got to do that. It’s odd.

But nothing is as odd as the next movie.

Next Time: Mister Lonely


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