Catch a “Butterfly” for a unique film experience
For those who might be unsure of what qualifies as an “art house” film, or what types of movies that the Salt Lake Film Society hopes to promote via its new venue (the former Red Cliffs Cinema), one need look no further than “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” In many ways, this poetic biography of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French Elle magazine who suffered a stroke in his early 40s, represents all that is good and uniquely typical of the independent films audiences can expect to see.
For starters, it’s in French with English subtitles. The cast features actors who are largely unknown to American audiences. Director Julian Schnabel is primarily a painter and has never made a film with more cash than the catering budget of most American films.
Most distinctly, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” takes on a topic and uses a storytelling method that few in Hollywood would dare tackle, and not because of its shock value but bank value. Stripped of the requirement to cater to a particular demographic or mainstream appeal in any form, “Butterfly” can float on the power of its own unencumbered creative exigency.
Therein lays its beauty.
His stroke leaves Bauby (Matthew Amalric of “Munich”) a victim of “locked-in syndrome,” making him unable to communicate or move any part of his body save one eye. The film immediately begins to challenge its audience, telling the story of Bauby’s rehab from his hospital bed vantage point.
Through narration and occasional flashbacks, the film allows Bauby to reflect on his family life, his career, and most powerfully his regrets. Although a good portion of the story is told using the blink system, a laboriously tedious method of extracting words one letter at a time, never does the film wallow in pity for Jean-Do’s execrable condition.
As harrowing as his experience is, seemingly normal on the inside but trapped in an almost lifeless shell, Bauby was blessed (some might say undeservedly) in some significant “silver lining” ways. Three French women of considerable beauty (matched only by the hospital’s locale in Calais) and seemingly endless patience help to nurture him. They are a speech therapist (Marie-Josee Croze), an editor (Anne Consigny) who helps him write his biography, and his ex-wife (Emmanuelle Seigner) who brings his children to visit him. Then, in one of the film’s most painfully poignant scenes, she acts as communiqu? in a phone conversation between Bauby and his lover.
Gracefully written and acted, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” lingers long after the lights come up. We can be grateful that films of quiet, unique beauty continue to be made, and that thanks to the Salt Lake Film Society (and Westates Theaters) it will be easy to experience them.
Rated PG-13 for sexual language and profanity, vulgar references, flashes of male and female nudity, brief drug content and references, brief sexual contact, and some brief violence (a bull fight).