Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

02 January 2008

Le Scaphandre

I haven't written anything about Julian Schnabel's Le Scaphandre et le Papillon (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) yet, and I'm sorry for that. I saw it days ago.

Le Scaphandre is a film of the astonishing memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was the the French editor of Elle but who became debilitated by a stroke that left him physically able only to move his left eye. He dictated the novel to his assistant by blinking his eye until she could write down what he wanted to say.

It's a difficult film, but also one I enjoyed very much. The acting is superb (Max Von Sydow has two scenes, and he is brilliant in both) and Schnabel's ability as an artist is really rather extraordinary. The film begins from Bauby's perspective, light coming in and out, nurses and doctors leaving focus and then returning. It's an interesting artistic choice, and it pays off. We relate to Bauby completely, and when he is finally able to communicate his thoughts to the other people who come to see him, the moments are moving and lovely. The way Schnabel achieves this is enough of a reason to watch the movie; he shows us a phantasmagoria of images that run through Bauby's mind as he describes them in the memoir. Narrative is as immaterial to the way the movie works as the materiality of his aphasic, paralyzed body is essential. It is this paradox between unbounded imagination and immobility that lies in the title of the memoir, and Schnabel has tapped into this duality to make a clever, beautiful film—tragic, to be sure, but also soaring.