The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

i wasn’t sure what to expect. it was playing at my hometown quirkfest cinema palace, a venue i enjoy save for the fact that the theaters in this lovely place are more cramped than coach from JFK to atlantic city. i love the selection of films playing there, but let’s be honest, i’m not a fan of viewing the film directly above me. but whatever.

it started out turbulent, which was rather disturbing. i have never been a fan of jerky cinematography, mostly because it makes me extremely nauseous, but also because it’s way too postmodern for me. and i say postmodern in the chuck klosterman sense of the word (i.e., “any art that is conscious of the fact that it is, in fact, art” as quoted from the brilliant sex, drugs, and cocoa puffs). basically i can’t stand it when people are too artistic for their own good. that being said, the blurriness, unsteadiness, and general surrealism of the first twenty minutes or so of the film was completely necessary. it recreated, as accurately as cinematically possible, the perspective of a stroke-afflicted person, the former editor of elle jean-dominique bauby (mathieu amalric). the subtlety of his genius performance is masked by the camera for the first part of the film, because we’re seeing the story literally through his cloudy, bitter eyes. however, the camera flips around allows full view of amalric’s complete transformation. the thing that really got to me was the lip droop – a consequence of the stroke victim’s inability to move and subsequent muscle relaxation – although i’m sure he had prosthetic assistance, i don’t know how i’d be able to keep that up for an entire film shooting.

my grandmother had a stroke. this whole time, these past five years, my family and i have done our best to estimate what she’s been trying to say to us. she has the frustrating luxury of speech but no sense of it; in other words, she can speak, but it comes out as gibberish. she is therefore more expressive than bauby ever was, but perhaps she is all the more stuck on the cusp of communication. bauby, as the story goes, recovered movement in one of his eyes. with the help of therapists, he used a simple blinking system to identify letters of the alphabet and form words, eventually writing the book on which the story was based. the tedium of his existence, shown in virtually every scene, opened my eyes to a fraction of what my grandmother is going through. a voice from the source – perhaps more coherent than any other before him – that transcends the language barrier. the film was written in french, but the experience is international. and afterwards, i waled away with a haunting, cliche, but all-too-real appreciation for my health and for the beauty of life.

my only qualm with the film, perhaps due to the language barrier, is that i was unimpressed by the other actors in the film. i sense that they may have been just as brilliantly subtle, but because i knew nothing of the direct translations, i don’t think i fully appreciated their performances. plus, amalric basically dominated the screen.one more thing: happy birthday gwenie!

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