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Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00
Local opening date: January 4, 2008
Reviewed by Diane Carson
Jean-Dominique Bauby enjoys a wonderful professional and personal life: editor of the French fashion magazine Elle, beloved father of two, and lover of several lovely women. Then, in 1995 at the young age of 43, he suffers an unusual cerebrovascular accident, a stroke that leaves him in an extremely rare predicament, what is called "locked-in syndrome." Paralyzed physically, including an inability to speak, Jean-Do is, nonetheless, mentally alert and comprehending. It is in this state that The Diving Bell and the Butterfly first presents Jean-Do as he gradually grasps the full import of his situation and remarkably triumphs creatively over it.

Jean-Do benefits from superior medical support. Through the use of the only physical control he has, the blink of his left eye, he dictates the real-life book on which The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is based by blinking when the correct letter is read by his assistant. Presented primarily from Jean-Do's subjective point of view, brief flashbacks illuminate his earlier life and flights of fancy fill in the rich history of the Berck-sur-Mer hospital where he's treated. Those who visit him-friends, colleagues and the wife of his children-reveal more about themselves than Jean-Do. The most touching moments include a phone call with his 92 year old father, played with heartbreaking intensity by Max von Sydow. Equally up to the demanding role of Jean-Do is Mathieu Amalric who transforms himself. The women are almost universally superb and gorgeous, though too many sexist comments are indulged in this regard.

Director Julian Schnabel and Academy Award-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski have transformed a tragedy into a brilliant celebration of life. Kaminski did all the technical effects in the camera without computer generated manipulation, and the impact is to pull the viewer into Bauby's mental and emotional state. The intensity of the atmosphere benefits from the film being shot entirely on the location where Bauby received treatment and with several of the nurses and therapists cast in their roles.

The diving bell of the title metaphorically describes Bauby's imprisoned physical state, the butterfly metaphor expresses his imaginative metamorphosis into a beautiful, albeit short-lived being. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has won numerous top-level awards, has been named the best film of the year by prestigious groups, and is an original, inspirational film of the highest order. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Cinema.

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