“The Diving Bell and The Butterfly,” review by Susan Granger

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When Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor-in-chief of Elle France magazine, suffered a stroke at age 43, he was left almost entirely paralyzed, yet he dictated a best-selling memoir, communicating with his caregivers by blinking his left eyelid.

While coming to terms with his own father’s death, painter-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls,” “Basquiat”) became intrigued by Ronald Harwood’s screenplay about Bauby’s suffering – and he’s brought it to the screen in a most unusual way, casting a French actor (Mathieu Amalric), instead of Johnny Depp who was first signed, and persuading the Normandy hospital where Bauby had been confined to allow the production to film there.

Except for kaleidoscopic flashbacks, it’s narrated entirely from Bauby’s “locked in” perspective with Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (“Schindler’s List,” “Saving Private Ryan”) utilizing a special lens with a shock absorber that makes his vision seem a bit out of focus.

As his story begins, there’s inevitable confusion and self-pity as Bauby realizes his condition, yet he’s soon cooperating with his tireless attendants (Marie-Josee Croze, Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Anne Consigny) who devise the painstaking pattern whereby he blinks at letters of the alphabet in order to form words, then sentences. Bauby’s wife Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), whom he’d abandoned with their children for another woman, devotedly visits, while his mistress balks; there’s also a poignant scene with his elderly father (Max von Sydow).

The title derives from Bauby’s nightmarish description of himself confined in a deep-sea diving bell; only his fertile imagination and intriguing, often amusing memories allow him to soar like a butterfly.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is a stylistically engrossing, compassionate 9. In French with English subtitles, it’s a testament to the indomitable human spirit.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.