(BY ALI NADERZAD) A wonderful new film by Julian Schnabel, one of our few American cinema auteurs, has reached theatre screens this Friday. Judging by the crowds in theatres on Friday night (the Angelika Film Center hadn’t seen this many people in its lobby since …) people are turning out in huge numbers for it. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is almost something to be en joyed intimately, however, amidst close friends. It is, after all, perhaps this year’s best film! It tells the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (aka Jean-Do) the former power-broker editor of Elle magazine. Bauby saunters from magazine shoot to work meetings in a flash, the whole world lying dormant at his feet until, with a snap of the finger, he sends a jolt of electricity through and it all come to attention. At least, this was Bauby before his accident. As he rode his convertible Jaguar down a country road with his young son, he suddenly loses control of the car. Instead of hurling itself toward a tree, however, the car slows down to a halt on the side of the road. It’s more horrifying this way. Bauby’s face is contorted by an uncontrollable anxiety as his alarmed son looks on: a disastrous stroke is shutting down his entire body. All the switches have been turned off but one, apparently. Bauby has been forgiven for one of his past sins: his left eye still functions. He can blink! What follows are scenes of tortured rehabilitation and agonizing discoveries. A bevy of nurses try to bring Bauby back to life and friends file in his room, staring, shocked, awkwardly repelled. At first we only see the hospital room, Bauby’s new panorama, through his own eye and the only sounds we hear are his own hapless commentary, a string of alarmed metaphysical questions. Where am I, etc? As he slowly comes to, the perspective reverts to the world outside him and we face Bauby’s grotesque face: his deformed lip and a body reduced to a single eyeball amplifying and echoing back all of the world’s travails. Janusz Kaminsky, who works with Steven Spielberg a lot, shows us a slice of Bauby’s world through that one, glistening eye and the feat he achieves is nothing short of miraculous: color clarity, effects hues and filters used sparingly, this is the alchemy of The Diving Bell (no CGI was used in this movie). When Jean-Do first comes to, his mind is still vanquished by the stroke: vague figures and faint voices try to mend their ways into his consciousness as he is slowly revived. Soon, the figures give way to recognizable faces and we can begin to piece together the relationships and the emotions that make up a life. One of the other noteworthy aspects of The Diving Bell is its refusal to veer off into sentimentality—because this could have been an odiously mushy film. Last year at the Cannes Festival The Diving Bell and The Butterfly got applause; it certainly appears on its way to getting more well-deserved nods. THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY opens today in theatres (pictured: Matthieu Amalric and Marie-Josee Croze)