I wrote this some time ago (February 29 apparently), and its been sitting unpublished on here since then, as its never been published anywhere else and I mainly use this blog for published articles these days. However, I’ve not put anything up in almost two months and I still like this so its going up. I wish you all butterflies too.
I don’t often write reviews of films I watch in the cinema, preferring instead to wait till they’re on DVD and I can analyse them thoroughly. However for this particular film I’ll make an exception.
I was expecting to enjoy The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, but nevertheless I was prepared not to. It’s in French, which I hadn’t realised until I was checking the cinema listings and, being the GFT, it gave its French name as well. French cinema tends to polarise my opinion. I either love it: passionately, evangelically and try to convince everyone I know to watch it, or I hate it: fiercely with something akin to pure loathing. Thankfully Diving Bell falls into the former category. Based on the autobiography of Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of Elle magazine, left completely paralysed (‘locked in’ syndrome) by a stroke. It’s a fascinating film, for most of which we follow the protagonist’s viewpoint exactly seeing the world through his one working eye. It’s a strange conceit, but one which locates us firmly within his world ‘locking us in’ with him, his narrated thoughts our constant companion. During the first half of the film, the only time we aren’t looking out through his eyes is when we’re inside one or other of the only two other (according to him) parts of him that can still move – his imagination and his memories. There is a great deal of frustration in the film, and anger, but more than that there is such passion, imagination, touches of unexpected humour and above all honesty. As a protagonist Jean Dominique does not shy away from his own failings and indiscretions. There’s a wonderful scene where a friend of his, Roussin, who’d been on a hijacked plane and held hostage in Beirut for four years compares their situations and gives him the advice that seems to become his driving force. All through the scene, in his head he’s cursing himself for never having called his friend after his release, for letting his guilt (he’d given up his seat on a flight so Roussin would make his connection, and then the plane got hijacked) stand in the way of being a good friend. The characters in the film feel terribly real, not idealised, not vilified, just straight-forward, with all their flaws and charms, moments of grace and weakness laid out before us.
From a cinematic perspective the film is truly a thing of beauty. The flights of fantasy by which he maintains his sanity are realised with such passion, such life. Imagination has been a saving grace to many a bed-ridden writer (Robert Louis Stevenson turning his fever dreams into Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde springs to mind). The imagery, whether in portraying the adventures of his imagination, or using scenes from nature to embody his emotional states, is always perfectly realised. Apparently the director is also an artist and it shows, this is the best kind of film as art. It’s a film that rips out your heart, but so gently that you don’t realise it that it has until you’re lying broken on the floor with wet eyes and an ache in your chest.