The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is artist and director Julian Schnabel’s third film, following the critically acclaimed Basquiat and Before Night Falls. This time Schnabel tackles the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor of French Elle magazine in the 90s, who suffers a stroke that paralyzed him from head to toe.
Diagnosed with the inexplicable “locked in” syndrome at the age of 43, his only means of communication was by blinking with one good eye, and with the helps of a speech therapist and a string of helpers he attempts to tell his story. What follows is a heartbreakingly moving study of the human spirit.
A friend, an artist himself, said that he “walked out of the cinema with my vision cleansed and was presented with a new world, one which might never be quite the same again. This, for me, is the sign of true art – a thing that has the power to open our perception and widen our world for ever more.” I have not heard a more accurate appraisal.
Director Julian Schnabel on his decision to shoot the film in France:
Jean-Dominique Bauby was a French writer living in a French hospital. I wanted my film to restore this French feeling. I did not want to cast American actors.
They would have spoken English, and we would have had to subtitle the film for French release. That would have been ridiculous. In addition, I didn’t want to make the film elsewhere than in Berck Hospital, because the landscapes, the mood, and the nurses were vital to the credibility of the adaptation.
Actor Mathieu Amalric on the validity of this adaptation:
At first I wondered how a film of this book could be made. When I met Julian Schnabel, I immediately sensed his need to direct the film. I said to myself, “Maybe there’s some way we can avoid being crooks and exploiting someone’s misfortune.”
I understood that it was possible. Besides, I saw how Julian was working with the script: we weren’t just colouring in the pictures, on the set; we were going to invent more. The more I think about it, the more I realize one didn’t necessarily have to be an actor for this film, just a human being.
Actor Anne Consigny on the role of Bauby’s bedside assistant:
I questioned Claude, the secretary, to find out how she’d felt before meeting Jean-Dominique Bauby for the first time. She told me she hadn’t had stage fright: just the feeling that she was needed there, that it was the right place for her to be. When I read the script, I got the same feeling: this was the right place for me.
Mathieu Amalric on the challenges of his role:
The voice was something incredible. For me, the voice was always essential to being inhabited by a character. It was the pathway for my body. I imagine that for all the other actors, it must have been terribly difficult. When I saw them playing with the lens of an extremely cold camera… I couldn’t help them, I couldn’t be there. I thought to myself, “We’re living two different films.” In the beginning, that thought helped me experience solitude. And I realized that silence gives you immense power.
Click here to view the trailer