Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Mark Kermode observed recently that the trouble with life-affirming movies is that they usually leave you wanting to bring your own life to an end rather sooner than you would have imagined on entering the cinema. Still, he was prepared to exempt Julian Scnabel's Le Scaphandre et le Papillon from this prescription, because the singular epilogue in the autobiography of Elle editor Jean-Do Bauby really is the kind of material that can quickly have you reassessing your life's current set of priorities.

That said, Bauby's life was one of privilege and the experience of being 'locked-in' appears to have been softened in his case by the extension of his relative position of advantage beyond the unfathomable misfortune of his 'accident'. (Thus we see a number of attractive women competing for the attention of Bauby's single roving eye...)

Whereas the diving bell scenes left me none the wiser about what it must be like to exist as a brain with an eye, there was one scene where I think Schnabel did find a clever way to reveal the imaginative strivings of Bauby's isolated mind: where he stares at a bust behind glass and imagines the comforting, and very lovely presence of the ghost of L'impératrice Eugénie, played here by Antoine de Caunes's daughter Emma.

Now, generally I'm a big sucker for the kind of schmaltz that emanates from fictional father-son relationships and, as a result, have been known to become watery-eyed in cheesy shows like Little House on the Prairie. Yet try as hard as they might, Max von Sydow and Mathieu Almaric left me surprisingly unmoved with their blubbery telephone chat late on in the film. I felt I just hadn't learned enough about this pair to really care about their relationship. And so in conclusion, an interesting movie, fascinatingly shot, but with some rather strange emotional lacunae.

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