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 fathers death, painter-turned-filmmaker Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls, Basquiat) became intrigued by Ronald Harwoods screenplay about Baubys suffering and hes 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, its narrated entirely from Baubys locked in perspective with Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindlers 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, theres inevitable confusion and self-pity as Bauby realizes his condition, yet hes 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. Baubys wife Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), whom hed abandoned with their children for another woman, devotedly visits, while his mistress balks; theres also a poignant scene with his elderly father (Max von Sydow).
The title derives from Baubys 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, its a testament to the indomitable human spirit.