TIFF Review: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

September 12, 2007

Imagine being completely immobile from head to toe except for your eye and eye-lid, being forced to communicate entirely through blinks. That's the real-life story told in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and it's a harrowing personalized look at that life that Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) had to live after barely surviving a coma-inducing stroke. Told fascinatingly by filmmaker Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls), Butterfly throws the audience headfirst (literally) into the film by using a first-person point of view right off the bat and for a majority of the film. While not every scene is in first-person, it's not only a moving film but also a thrilling experience being forced to live in that same world that Jean-Dominique did.

This tragic comedy may initially seem boring or even annoying, but after the first twenty minutes once you've laughed at the thoughts in the mind of Jean-Dominique, you'll certainly have a much different opinion. I immediately thought of 2004's The Sea Inside when watching Butterfly, and in similar fashion, this film is as moving and as thoroughly entertaining as that Best Foreign Language Oscar winner. While still a different story and filled with a bit more comedy, Butterfly is just as enduring and heartfelt. It's hard to consider laughing at such a sad story, but pulling that off as well as it did shows Schnabel's immense capability as a filmmaker.

This card of letters being held by Marie-Josée Croze is organized be frequency of use that was read out loud to Jean-Dominique. He would blink when the letter he wanted was spoken and thus writte down to form words and sentences.Diving Bell and the Butterfly Review

Although the point-of-view in the film is mostly from Jean-Dominique's eye, a cast of French beauties (Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze, and Olatz Lopez Garmendia) comprises most of the on-screen eye-candy and I won't deny that it was a pleasure watching them for 112 minutes. The grace and elegance from these three is truly what made Butterfly wonderful. Unfortunately as much as the film had been building its way to a grand finale, it's the only part where it fell flat on its face and failed to deliver as powerfully as the remainder.

Schnabel won the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and I now understand why he earned that distinction. Unless I'm otherwise persuaded by another fine foreign film, I'm strongly supporting The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for this year's Best Foreign Language Oscar.

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