Monday, December 03, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

Brilliant. Exquisite. Poetic. Clean. Elegant. Powerful. True.

Based on a true story. The editor of "Elle" (fashion) magazine, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a rather libido-driven guy, early forties, has a stroke---which leaves him totally paralyzed, and only able to see and blink with one eye.

The film starts with him coming out of a coma...and follows him from there. Not a very promising concept for a major motion picture, but thanks in some part to the courage of Miramax, the Weinstein's, and the greatness of the filmmakers, it got made...and wonderfully so. Oh, did I mention: the film is based on Mr. Bauby's autobiography, dictated letter by letter with a single- or double-blink of his one good eye while in the hospital,!

See this film.

See it on a big screen; not on your mobile phone. Sub-titled. It's beauty warrants and deserves it's true size. See it if you see nothing else this year.

Yes; it is a foreign film (French). Of course.

After leaving the Academy, after seeing the film there, I said ruefully to my wife: "Why are all the best movies these days ("Talk to Her", last year's "Lives of Others", this year's "Eastern Promises"...) made by foreigners?!

I got home, I looked up the director's name, Julian Schnabel, on IMDB, Inter Movie Data Base. He was born in Brooklyn, raised in Brownsville, TX, and schooled at the University of Houston!!!! He just directs foreign!...With sensitivity, style, meaning, intelligence, insight and wit.

Am I saying that Americans do not have these qualities. Sure they do. But the ones that do just don't get hired very much by studio executives who ($$$$-driven) are pandering after kids who they assume in their movie tastes and desires are not sensitive and bright. But...French kids are?

The writer of this film, by the way, Ronald Harwood, was an actor very early in his career, and the writer of "The Pianist" and "The Dresser". He is seventy-three. Schnabel is fifty-five. Schnabel does not have a long list of film credits to his name (over the years he has been busy also being a fine artist; a painter). If there is any justice, he will start compiling a long list of film credits now.

The acting is amazing. Each character is distinct. Each character has a story to tell...and you like them all, warts and all. An overall brilliant effort. David Denby, the critic for the "New Yorker" magazine, said it best: "A feast of movie making. It feels like nothing less than the rebirth of the cinema."

4 Comments:

Blogger Jeff said...

Julian Schnabel was interviewed on Charlie Rose a couple of days ago in the previous week Sidney Lumet was interviewed along with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke about "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead". Certainly the high quality movies don't get overlooked by the media.

12:24 AM  
Blogger Cliff Osmond said...

I finally saw "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead". It is certainly not a "high quality" movie, albeit it was made by some very high quality people. I will review it in the next couple of days. More then...

11:48 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bell said...

My thoughts about many French films that soar including "Diving Bell":

There is a common theme, which if done well, doesn't miss for those that like the form -- people experiencing difficulties of life and relationships against the backdrop of the best of things French which paints life in lyrical, beautiful and often bittersweet terms.

The backdrop of the best of French living however seems critically important to the film's success I argue, a tactic I posit is tricky for our filmmakers to recreate -- the great French backdrop is easy to identify -- just about any street or cafe in Paris, the coast or countryside, add in some cooking, some art, a mistress, clothes, some music a la accordian -- I've noticed that voice over dialog takes on a lyric quality when the backdrop is grand and the backdrop can soften the need for complex characters: a 'normal' person sits nicely in such settings. The grand American equivalent backdrops however are not so numerous, obvious nor time-honored.

Do our filmmakers in the place of grand backdrop often opt for the commonplace or fantastic setting and in effect compensate by making the circumstances and characters extreme?

I still argue that "Devil Knows" is a high quality movie, albeit a different type of movie, a quesy morality story of the Devil getting it's due. But then I liked the other unknown Hoffman movies where he does the same descent as a gambler and another as a gasoline stiffing addict(!).

Could "Diving Bell" succeed as well if the setting were Seattle? Or would it just be so much harder to make into a great movie that it would never get made or would fail? I mean a world class affliction calls for a world class locale to offset it.

This format I refer to holds in "Diving Bell" and is taken to it's limit. The actual story of a horrific affliction that happened to none other than the editor of Elle, a man who was living the best of what France had to offer, even (to the extent possible) in his sickness -- drop dead gorgeous nurses and wife, hospital on French coast.

Only the inclusion of the early edition of "Three Musketeers" didn't rock me, had to imagine I was French to get into the frame of mind of it's sublimeness.

The look of the movie was as compelling as the story. Wonderful.

"Thank God for the French" -- Woody Allen, 'Stardust Memories'

12:02 PM  
Blogger Lesly said...

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11:27 AM  

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