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Monday, 10 March 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Like a deep-sea diver trapped underwater, Jean-Dominique Bauby lived the last year of his life unable to move or speak. Only his left eyelid remained mobile, and using a system of blinks he dictated the memoir upon which this film is based. Directed by Julian Schnabel (When Night Falls), it’s a strange, beautiful and claustrophobic film, shot largely from the point of view of Bauby (Mathieu Amalric). The initial scenes are blurry and incomplete as Bauby struggles to bring into focus the sea-green walls of his hospital room, the roses in a vase, and the team of gawping medical specialists. As the film progresses, and Bauby’s imagination and memories roam free like a butterfly, the camera pulls back almost euphorically.

This isn’t an easy triumph-of the-will story. The scenes between Bauby and his father (Max von Sydow) are almost unbearably poignant. So too with his ex-wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) and their three children. Yet the film’s achievement is that it’s not pity we feel for this ‘locked-in’ man, but empathy – and a recognition that for most of us, there will come a time when consciousness outlasts mobility.

Rochelle Siemienowicz
(This review first appeared in The Big Issue, #297)

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