(With the Diving Bell and the Butterly opening in America this weekend, we're re-running James's review of the film from the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year.)
After seeing Julian Schnabel's Cannes competition entry Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), I staggered into the light awestruck, a little moved, my heart and mind both racing with the excitement and power of the film I'd just seen. I ran into a fellow film critic, who wanted a fast take on the third film from painter-turned-director Schnabel, his follow-up to Basquiat and Before Night Falls. "Imagine a Spike Jonze-Charlie Kauffman-Michel Gondry-style film," I said, "but with a warm, beating heart instead of cool, detached hipster irony. ..." Based on the true story of Jean-Dominic Beauby, the editor-in-chief of the French edition of Elle, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly begins in blinding, blurry light; there's been an accident, and Jean-Do (as his friends call him, here played by Mathieu Amalric) has just woken from a coma. We're seeing the world through his eyes, and things don't look good.
Jean-Do's had a massive cerebro-vascular accident, as his doctors tell him in hushed tones; all Jean-Do can move is his left eyelid. "It won't comfort you to know," one notes, "that your condition is extremely rare." Soon, therapists are suggesting to Jean-Do that he can communicate by blinking; one for 'yes,' two for 'no' with longer ideas expressed by someone reading a list of the letters of the alphabet, starting with the most frequently used and moving down the line, waiting for Jean-Do to blink and indicate which letter he wants. A letter becomes a word become a sentence, blink by blink -- but is this really a way for Jean-Do to communicate with the world?