Julian Schnabel is an artist-turned-filmmaker, evidently preoccupied with the lives of other artists and writers: Jean-Michel Basquiat in Basquiat, Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, and now Jean-Dominique Bauby in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Several years ago, this blogger designed Fine Line Features’ official website for Before Night Falls. But frankly, I had trouble working up the enthusiasm to watch a biopic (absolutely not one of my favorite genres) about a tetraplegic. But please do not be dissuaded by the admittedly depressing subject matter. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is utterly beautiful in every way, and moved this hardened Dork Reporter to tears in the end.
Mathieu Amalric (who resembles a more symmetrical Thom Yorke) plays the real-life Bauby, a fashion magazine editor who suffers a stroke. He survives with “locked-in syndrome,” the proverbial fate worse than death: near-total physical paralysis but with full mental faculties intact. In the true spirit of a French film, Bauby is surrounded by beautiful women. No less a French hottie than Emanuelle Seigner plays Céline, the estranged mother of his children. In a moment of bittersweet humor, the despondent post-stroke Bauby is partially consoled when he first meets his two utterly gorgeous physical and speech therapists (Marie-Josée Croze and Anne Consigny).
According to the DVD bonus features, screenwriter Ronald Harwood conceived of the powerful visual device of using the camera as Bauby’s point of view, simulating his sole means of communication: blinking. He is, blessedly, able to move one eye, and painstakingly dictates his autobiography letter by letter.
The soundtrack is excellent, including Tom Waits, Joe Strummer (a really great song, new to me, called “Ramshackle Day Parade”), and the best possible use of U2’s “Ultraviolet.”