June 23, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

(aka "Le scaphandre et le papillon")

Sometimes I randomly pick something from Netflix based on the highest user ratings and usually I disagree entirely with the high marks given but not this time. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is one of the best French language films that I've ever seen. Now I know why it received four Oscar nominations.

For those of you who have never heard of this film, this is the true story of former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffered a stroke and had to live with an almost totally paralyzed body. He could only blink one eye but managed to communicate with the outside world and even write a book about his condition due to an ingenious language system used by one of his very beautiful therapists.

In a lot of ways the film is a lot like "Johnny Got His Gun" (1971) but much more horrific because you really get put inside the head of the paralysed Jean-Do. What makes it even scarier is that the kind of stroke he had could happen to anyone even though it is considered quite rare.

Mathieu Amalric plays the lead and if you don't know who he is then you must have missed the latest James Bond film "Quantum of Solace" entirely. Originally Johnny Depp was supposed to play the part but I'm glad he didn't because Amalric does such a great job that you could easily believe that he really was paralysed. The flashback and dream scenes where he is fully restored prove what a great actor he is and make the whole situation even sadder.

One thing that really stood out for me though was all the beautiful actresses in the film. In many ways this was intentional as, due to Jean-Dominique Bauby's profession, he was surrounded by beautiful women a lot of the time. The women in his hospital environment are supposed to typify his ideal type of woman and are all like angels to him. The tragedy of not being able to move or feel anything physically again makes his predicament even worse.

I really got caught up in it all even though I'd be the first to admit that it's not really my kind of film at all. I recommend that everyone at least rents it, but it's a bit too depressing to want to own and watch again.

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