Sunday, February 10, 2008
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Well, well, well. I've gone and surprised myself.
I postponed seeing the critically lauded film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for week upon week, dreading spending two hours watching a tragic story told with claustrophobic camera work. A couple of people reassured me that it was uplifting and inspiring. Uh-huh, sure. You're telling me that seeing the world through the one working eye of a real-life French fashion editor bon vivant, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was suddenly paralyzed in his prime is going to raise my spirits. But then I heard the terrific Mathieu Amalric (star of the excellent French drama Kings and Queen—rent it!) was in the lead role and I reconsidered. Mon dieu, I'm glad I did. Because, mon dieu, this film is emotionally ravaging and visually ravishing.
I walked into the theater prepared to face whatever rabbit hole of tortured emotion and onanistic artistry director Julian Schnabel saw fit to drag me down. What I got instead was a wonderland worthy of Alice.
Let's put it this way. The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is threatening to knock No Country for Old Men into the number two spot of my still to be scribed Top Ten Films of 2007 list. I think it'll have to be a tie. Both films are masterpieces. Both stayed on my mind for days. Both made me feel compelled to read the books that inspired them. But The Diving Bell and the Butterfly offers one thing No Country for Old Men couldn't (and, to be fair, shouldn't): Hope.
It is rare to encounter such fully realized perfection in a film. Every element is crafted with beauty and truth, even in the story's darkest moments.
Everyone who touched this film was blessed by Midas himself—from its visionary director, Schanbel, to its gifted writer, Ron Hargrove, its elegant editor, Juliette Welfling, and its gossamer cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski.
The performers were all pitch perfect, too, in roles that required a delicate touch—the soulful Mathieu Amalric as the irresistible Jean-Dominique, the vulnerable Emmanuelle Seigner as his long-suffering love, the sweetly wry Marie-Josée Croze as a patience-of-the-saints speech therapist and Max von Sydow as the heartbreaking patriach.
What the cast and crew has created here is one of the most gorgeous and galvanizing films ever made. Period.
Evidently, Johnny Depp was first attached to play Bauby and was the one who insisted Schnabel direct. While I'm glad Johnny ran off to play a pirate instead (his celebrity would've been too heavy a burden for this delicate film to bear), his choice of Schnabel was inspired.
So thank you, Johnny. Thank you, Julian. Thank you, Mathieu. But, most of all, thank you, Jean-Do. You were a reluctant hero literally trapped in a man's body, but your spirit still soars.