THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY directed by Julian Schnabel, written by Ronald Harwood from the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby, with Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner and Marie-Josée Croze. A Miramax/Alliance release. 112 minutes. Subtitled. Rating: NN
Julian Schnabel won the directing prize at Cannes for The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, which seems bizarre to me.
He’s made two other films, Basquiat and Before Night Falls, but he doesn’t strike me as a director. He has little sense of structure, and scenes often feel shapeless and unfinished. There are ideas and cinematography here, but not a lot of actual direction.
Jean-Dominique Bauby was a French journalist who suffered a stroke that left him trapped in his own body. All he had control of was his left eye, and he communicated by blinking. This is a laborious and awful way to write a book, which he did. His amanuenses recited the alphabet until he blinked for them to stop.
Schnabel has played a classic trick in casting Mathieu Amalric (Munich, Kings And Queen) as Bauby, strapping an actor who’s a ball of nervous energy into a wheelchair. (See also Richard Dreyfuss in Whose Life Is It Anyway?)
Unfortunately, he strapped us into Bauby’s head, and we spend the first 40 to 50 minutes of the film locked into his point of view, which is often out of focus as his eyes blink and wander erratically around the room.
It’s a POV stunt, and as tiring as most such things – an opportunity for Academy Award-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to play with lenses until he figures out just how much of that fisheye we’ll have to endure for the rest of the film.
No Country For Old Men was at Cannes, and this film won best director? What the hell were they thinking?
This weepy, arty biopic is a lock for a foreign-language film nomination. And it could beat 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days for the prize.