To be completely honest, I had no idea
what a diving bell is before watching American Julian Schnabel’s film.
Perhaps it was a pun on belle, the French for beauty. A sizable
chunk of the mystery evaporated when watching, for I found out it refers
to old-fashioned diving suits with the huge head gear. The French title
is much more useful: Le scaphandre et le papillon. Indeed, Google
Translate renders “scaphandre” as both “scuba” and “spacesuit”. But
enough pettiness about the weirdness of a phrase like “diving bell” and
its use in a film title.
The film, like the eponymous 1997 book
upon which it is based, chronicles its own creation. Jean-Dominique
Bauby was the editor of French Elle magazine but suffered
a stroke that left his body paralysed but his mind intact: the so-called
enthusiastic coastal hospital staff, who devise a blinking-based method
of communication with his one still-functioning eye, Jean-Do (played in
the Jekyll/Hyde manner necessary by Mathieu Amalric) starts grasping his
reality. He re-extends his universe to meet “the mother of his
children”, his friends and colleagues. Yet his relationship with his
lover and his father remain more complex.
immobile state, he realises that his imagination is infinite. He travels
through beautiful places and creations and we are part of it. After
realising that rewriting The Count of Monte Cristo is pointless,
he instead sets on describing his condition.
movie such as this, which aims to immerse the viewer at least partly
into the subject’s world, requires great technique. Jean-Do sees the
world through one eye. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski takes us there.
is Bauby’s frustration, unlost humour, sexuality or love, as well as
regret and pessimism which highlights his strength of character and make
The Diving Bell so powerful and endearing. That the human mind is
free like a butterfly in a frozen frame is uplifting, but also chilling.
personally found some of the monologues and their imagery a bit flowery.
They rung disingenuous and artificially beautiful. A kind of ‘poetic for
the sake of being poetic’ that may work wonderfully in prose but is hard
to digest in a movie. This is personal taste: they were minor
distractions and irritants. All up a wonderful, ponderous movie.