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He regains consciousness in a haze and realizes he's in a hospital. While unable to move or even speak, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) hears all too well what the doctors are saying: he's had a stroke and is now suffering locked-in syndrome, a condition so rare that medical science cannot understand it. The 43 year old, successful and charismatic (but divorced) editor of French Elle, is at the peak of his career. It was during a drive in his flash new convertible with his oldest son, that he suffered the stroke. As Jean-Do comes to grips with his new life inside what sometimes feels like a diving bell under the sea, he begins to use the unaffected part of his humanity: his imagination, which floats like a butterfly across an interior world he has to create for himself. Deep inside, he comes across memories and emotions that are woven into his life. To communicate, he learns, painfully slowly, to blink his one remaining eye once for 'yes' and twice for 'no' - and perseveres enough to turn his story into a book.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Julian Schnabel won the Best Director Award at Cannes (2007) for this film, and rightly so. The film is a unique visualisation, in which the tools of cinema are used to the max in bringing us a complex and complete visceral experience. It's an insight into human experience through a man who is locked in his body, fully aware and sentient, but unable to communicate. A terrible torture, especially for a man of words. Schnabel, a painter, has applied his artistic aesthetic to making this film, pushing cinematographer Janusz Kaminski into extremes. Like the pov from Bauby's right eye when the lid is being sown up to prevent it becoming diseased.

The film's structure is also effective, beginning with Bauby's gaining consciousness, then moving forward in time, but interrupted by flashbacks to emotionally engaging moments in his relationship with his ex wife, his ageing father and his children. We see a lot of the early part of the film from his limited window to the world, a point of view made up of images in soft focus, shifting colours.....

Mathieu Amalric makes the most of the challenges he faces in capturing the lively, able bodied Bauby, as well as the bedridden invalid who has to somehow cope with a disability that comes with extraordinary frustrations. And for much of the time, he has one eye to act with. It's a searing, moving and haunting performance which transcends simple acting tricks to wholly morph into the character. Maginificent support from the three women around him - Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny - and from Max von Sydow as Dauby's father, in some of the film's most heartbreaking scenes.

Unutterably sad though it is, the film glows with Bauby's self revelation of the possibilities of creating an inner life when you are shut off from the outer one. Reminiscent in subject matter and themes to The Sea Inside, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly is a serious piece of cinema for the connoisseur.

Review by Louise Keller:
Taking us from great depths to ethereal heights, this extraordinary true story is an inspiring reinforcement of inextinguishable inner strength and determination in the face of unimaginable adversity. When Elle Magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby could only communicate through the blinking of his left eye, it is miraculous to imagine how he could have articulated his thoughts one blink and one letter at a time in order to write his memoir. Director Julian Schnabel's triumph of a film locks us into the captive body and virile mind of this remarkable man, potently played by Mathieu Amalric; together we experience the disbelief, self-pity, frustration, wry humour and acceptance of a newfound life from which the only escape is philosophical. Profoundly affecting, tears allowed my emotions to be swept away in a tide of overwhelming empathy.

The film starts as a bit of a blur. There are flashes of light and fragmented images which fade in and out as we realise we are experiencing life from Jean-Do's predicament. Beyond his capability to blink once to answer yes, and twice for no, imagination and memory are Jean-Do's only tools for self-preservation. With one blink of an eye, the tortured, paralysed face and body are gone and we meet him as a handsome, successful fashion magazine editor, living a glamorous life. The past and the present intertwine with heart-wrenching leaps. Emmanuelle Seigner is wonderful as Céline, the mother of his three children, and the scene in which she has to translate his response to his lover on the phone is almost too uncomfortable to bear. Also potent are the scenes with Max Von Sydow, his 92 year old father, who is also a prisoner of his ageing, ailing body.
Marie-Josée Croze is greatly sympathetic as the hospital's physiotherapist who gives Jean-Do the tools with which he can communicate.

Schnabel's intuitive and expressive direction guarantees our journey to be unforgettable. Faith, religion, relationships are all put under the microscope. Our understanding of Jean-Do, the man, the lover, the son and the father is complete. The final pieces of the puzzle come together when he leaves his Paris apartment driving his new convertible. It is a glorious day and Paris has never looked so beautiful. With the unknown around every corner, we realise the transient nature of our lives. Like The Sea Inside, this magnificent film is one to savour, a sculptured work of art that touches us at our most vulnerable.

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(France, 2007)

Scaphandre et le papillon, Le

CAST: Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze, Anne Consigny, Patrick Chesnais, Niels Arestrup, Olets Lopez Garmendia, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Marina Hands, Max Von Sydow, Isaac De Bankolee, Emma de Caunes

PRODUCER: Kathleen Kennedy, John Kilik

DIRECTOR: Julian Schnabel

SCRIPT: Ronald Harwood (book by Jean-Dominique Bauby)


EDITOR: Juliette Welfling

MUSIC: Paul Cantelon

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michel Eric, Laurent Ott

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 14, 2008

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