DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY

(BY ALI NADERZAD) At over 50, Julian Schnabel has made three films. Each one concerns itself with an artist–Schnabel works with what he knows. His most recent one is better than the other two combined. Forget that, even. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is magnificent: a fluent, powerful film. What got Elle Edito Bauby on a hospital bed? A massive stroke, which vanquished his every motor movement in him except one: a functional eyelid. Bauby could blink and that was it, that was all the gods would let him have. You watch Bauby struggling through his elusive rehabilitation and you wonder, what sort of horrible things did he commit in his lifetime to deserve this? Well, nothing really. He was a hard-working divorce with a famous magazine to run and a mistress to attend to. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary for a straight French man working in publishing and fashion. Bauby’s father, played by Max Von Sydow, is proud of his son and let it be known during a visit by his son. In one of the film’s brighter moment, the father tells his son he is proud of him. You can tell this is not something the father would normally say to a son. And even though it could come across as forced, part of Schnabel’s great skill is that it does not. Later in the film, when a devastated father calls his son to wish him well, he is overcome with sorrow. The scene’s intensity leaves you gasping for air. And yet, the marvelous thing about Schnabel’s direction is that nowhere in this Diving Bell is there a hint of the unctuous sentimentality often found in films nowadays. You won’t feel manipulated, and thankfully so. Schnabel and his DP Janusz Kaminsky have crafted beautiful and memorable images, mixing the brightness of the outdoors with the sterile, deadening tranquility of rehab clinic. But even then, the setting which Bauby is constrained to doesn’t clash or try to bring contrast to anything else (like a past life or the outside world). It just is, a suburban clinic by the sea.
Schnabel, who previously directed Before Night Falls and Basquiat, won the Jury Prize at Cannes this past May for Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

© 2007 Ali Naderzad

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