The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (film)

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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Directed by Julian Schnabel
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy
Jon Kilik
Written by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Ronald Harwood
Starring Mathieu Amalric
Emmanuelle Seigner
Marie-Josée Croze
Max Von Sydow
Music by Paul Cantelon
Cinematography Janusz Kaminski
Editing by Juliette Welfling
Distributed by Pathé Renn Productions (France)
Miramax Films (USA)
Release date(s) May 23, 2007 France & Belgium
August 10, 2007 United Kingdom
2008 U.S.
Running time 112 minutes
Language French

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (French: Le scaphandre et le papillon) is a 2007 film based on the memoir of the same name by Jean-Dominique Bauby. The film depicts Bauby's life after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 43, which left him with a condition known as locked-in syndrome. The condition paralyzed him, with the exception of his left eyelid, so that he could only communicate by blinking. The film was directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Ronald Harwood and stars Mathieu Amalric as Bauby. It won awards at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globes and the BAFTA Awards, as well as four Academy Award nominations.


[edit] Synopsis

The film is initially told entirely from the restricted point of view of Bauby, as he wakes from his three-week coma in a hospital in Berck, France. A neurologist explains that he has Locked-In syndrome, an extremely rare condition in which the patient is almost completely physically paralyzed, but remains mentally normal. At first, the viewer primarily hears Bauby's thoughts, which are inaccessible to the other characters, and sees through his one functioning eye.

A speech therapist and physical therapist try to help Bauby become as functional as possible. Bauby cannot speak, but he develops a system of communication with his speech therapist by blinking his left eye as she reads a list of letters to spell out his messages, letter by letter.

Gradually, the film's restricted point of view broadens out, and the viewer begins to see Bauby from 'outside', in addition to experiencing incidents from his past, as well as his fantasies, in which he imagines beaches, mountains, The Empress Eugénie, and a large feast. It is revealed that Bauby had been editor of the popular French fashion magazine Elle, and that he had a deal to write a book. He decides that he will still write a book, using his slow and exhausting communication technique. A woman from the magazine is hired to take dictation.

The story of Bauby's writing is juxtaposed with his recollections and regrets until his stroke. We see the mother of his three children, his children, his mistress, his friends, and his father. He encounters people from his past whose lives bear similarities to his own situation: a friend who was kidnapped in Beirut and held in solitary confinement for years, and his own father, who is confined to his own apartment because he is too frail to use the stairs.

Bauby eventually completes his memoir and hears the critics' responses to it. However, he dies of pneumonia shortly after the publication.

[edit] Production

Although made in France with a French-speaking cast, the film was originally to be produced by the American company Universal Pictures, and the screenplay was originally in English, with Johnny Depp slated to star as Bauby. According to the screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, the choice of Julian Schnabel as director was recommended by Depp. However, Universal Pictures subsequently withdrew, and Pathe took up the project two years later. Depp dropped the project due to scheduling conflicts with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.[1] Schnabel remained as director. The film was eventually produced by Pathe and France 3 Cinéma, in association with Banque Populaire Images 7 and the American Kennedy/Marshall Company, and in participation with Canal+ and Ciné Cinémas.

Schnabel said his influence for the film was drawn from personal experience. "My father got sick and he was dying. He was terrified of death and had never been sick in his life. So he was in this bed at my house, he was staying with me, and this script arrived for ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.’ As my father was dying, I read Ron Harwood’s script.

It gave me a bunch of parameters that would make a film have a totally different structure. As a painter, as someone who doesn’t want to make a painting that looks like the last one I made, I thought it was a really good palette. So personally and artistically these things all came together." [2]

According to the New York Sun, Schnabel insisted that the movie should be in French, resisting pressure by the production company to make it in English, believing that the rich language of the book would work better in the original French, and even went so far as to learn French to make the film.[3]. Harwood tells a slightly different story: Pathe wanted "to make the movie in both English and French, which is why bilingual actors were cast"; he continues that "Everyone secretly knew that two versions would be impossibly expensive", and that "Schnabel decided it should be made in French".[4]

[edit] Controversy

In February 2008, some of Bauby's friends stated that movie was an inaccurate portrayal of his life. Specifically, they stated that his ex-girlfriend, and mother of his two children, Sylvie de la Rochefoucauld, used her influence and a threatened lawsuit to modify the movie to suit her own ends, and depict herself in an untrue way.

The most important problem with the movie, according to his friends, was the depiction of the mother of Bauby's children who, in the movie, pays him saintly visits day after day, despite the fact he doesn't love her and the girlfriend he is in love with never shows up at the hospital at all. His friends stated that in real life, his girlfriend visited at the hospital almost daily to spend time with him. In contrast Sylvie de la Rochefoucauld is only mentioned once in his book, during the time she brings his two children (Théo and Céleste) to the hospital to celebrate Father's Day for the first time and they experience a wonderful day on the beach together. Bauby's friends claim his girlfriend was the one who came day after day and carried out his wishes and that Bauby died in her arms. In sharp contrast, de la Rochefoucauld was in the U.S. with her new boyfriend, rock journalist Philippe Manoeuvre, when Bauby died.

Véronique Blandin, a friend of Bauby, stated that "The mother of the children was there every time -- not the truth. [His girlfriend] didn't want to be in the movie. The mother of the children is there. OK. But it is really nasty in the way she [Florence] is presented as not brave, and she refused to come [to the hospital]. It's so incredible to put this in front of the whole world. You just want to make your life. Ten years later you are attacked like that... I don't agree with the personal story, It's not the truth."

Bauby's friends were reportedly furious when an article in the London Daily Mail quoted de la Rochefoucauld as saying: "I was at his [Bauby's] bedside day after day. I never abandoned him. I was never aware of Jean-Do's girlfriend visiting him in the hospital." De la Rochefoucauld later denied that she said this. Bernard Chapuis, a writer and Bauby's best friend, criticized de la Rochefoucauld, stating that. "Jean-Do had left her, and he was ill. When she says Florence never went, it's stupid. To have the revenge like that, well..."

De La Rochefoucauld later stated that Bauby's friends "were pissed off that I didn't ask their permission. They're reproaching me for having done that movie. It is very hard for me because I was sure I was doing the right thing. They [the filmmakers] did the adaptation they wanted to do. They made the movie they wanted to make."[5]

[edit] Cast

[edit] Critical reception

The film received very favorable reviews from critics. As of July 26, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 94% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 142 reviews.[6] Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 92 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.[7]

[edit] Top ten lists

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2007.[8]

[edit] Awards and nominations

The film premiered in competition at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival on May 22, where Schnabel won, two weeks later, the Award for Best Director. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, and won a BAFTA award. Schnabel also won Best Director at the 65th Golden Globe Awards, where the film won Best Foreign Language Film. Because the film was produced by an American company, it was ineligible for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.


  • The EDA Awards
    • Best Editing
    • Best Foreign Film
    • Outstanding Achievement By A Woman In 2007


[edit] References

  1. ^ The film Julian Schnabel 'had to' make Los Angeles Times 'Calendarlive', accessed May 23, 2007
  2. ^ [1], Interview by Drew Tewksbury - November 28, 2007.
  3. ^ "Schnabel's Portrait of an Artist in Still Life", Review of: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Darrell Hartman, New York Sun, September 28, 2007. Retrieved May 9, 2008.
  4. ^ 'How I Set the Butterfly Free' Times Online January 24, 2008 (Accessed on March 10, 2008)
  5. ^ The truth about "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Beth Arnold,, February 23, 2008.
  6. ^ "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on 2008-07-26. 
  7. ^ "Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The (2007): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved on 2008-01-05. 
  8. ^ "Metacritic: 2007 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Retrieved on 2008-02-25. 
  9. ^ "65th Golden Globe Awards Nominations & Winners". Retrieved on 2008-01-13. 
  10. ^ "Nominees - 80th Annual Academy Awards". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved on 2008-01-22. 
  11. ^ "HOLLYWOOD FOREIGN PRESS ASSOCIATION 2008 GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS FOR THE YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31, 2007". 2007-12-13. Retrieved on 2008-01-05. 

[edit] External links

Preceded by
Letters from Iwo Jima
 United States
Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film
Succeeded by
Waltz with Bashir
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