Film Review: 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'
by Elizabeth Menon

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What does one say after witnessing such brilliance! Perhaps, "Thank God for London Film Festival", without which I would not have been able to see this most wonderful French film! Brilliance in performance, acting, photography and technical details were evident through the film, making it totally gripping to the very end.

Julian Schnabel/France, based on a true story, directs this film. JD Bauby, the editor of French Vogue suffered a stroke and the film starts as he comes out of a coma after 20 days. He was diagnosed with a rare 'locked in syndrome', which left him with his memory and only the movement of his left eye. With the help of the speech therapist, through the alphabet of blinking, he tells his story which became a best seller. Though this is a painfully slow process, the director has succeeded in maintaining the audience's attention to the very end.

The film has an explosive start as Jean-Do (Bauby) wakes up from his coma; the visual effects prior to this scene show the extensive research into human anatomy, almost a lesson in anatomy itself! The audience can feel Jean-Do's imagination as trapped under water inside the 'Diving Bell' and the only moving structure in his body, his left eye, as the 'Butterfly'.

The alphabet of blinking and the explanation about moving the tongue on the roof of the mouth to improve the movement and swallowing clearly show extensive study into the 'Locked in Syndrome', which I am sure would be quite helpful for families in similar situations. It also shows that a stroke can affect anyone, even the most charismatic 43 yr old Editor in chief of Vogue.

JD Bauby's flamboyant lifestyle is shown through the film as flash back just to remind the audience what JD Bauby was like before he was committed to the wheelchair. His relationship with his father was most touching! The flash back scene where Jean-Do' shows off his new car to his son and how he has the stroke was heart breaking.

In his present life, all he had were his imagination and memory, and his wonderful sense of humour shown through his thoughts by a voice over by Mathieu Amalric who stars as Bauby was greatly felt by the audience. The actor portrayed the transformation from a highly successful playboy to someone in a vegetative state capable of moving only his left eye, brilliantly. The directorial skill was at its best in the restraint showed at the most crucial moments. A great film not to be missed!

© E Menon

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