film review: THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon)

Directed by Julian Schnabel
Written by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Screenplay adapted by Ronald Harwood
Cinematography by Janusz Kaminski
Edited by Juliette Welfling
Original Music by Paul Cantelon
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Olatz Lopez, Marie-Josée Croze & Emmanuelle Seigner

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The life of Jean-Dominique Bauby is at once tragic and inspirational and in the very capable hands of director Julian Schnabel, with “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly”, his story comes to the screen in a most moving and artful way.  We learn through early dialogue and flashback that Bauby has suffered a major stroke and that coming out of a coma he awakens in a state referred to as locked in syndrome. Actor Mathieu Amalric (Munich) plays Bauby, editor of Elle magazine and a major player in 1990s Paris social circles. After his stroke, Bauby becomes all but incapable of communication, as he is unable to speak or move, with the exception of his left eyelid.

In the film’s first 20 minutes or so we are Bauby, the camera playing the role of his functioning eye. Seeing that Bauby’s entire world has been internalized, it’s an inspired device, executed perfectly by Schnabel and his DP Janusz Kaminski (“Saving Private Ryan”, “Schindler’s List”). Initially overwhelmed by a feeling of claustrophobia – imagine wearing a neck brace and an eye patch while lying motionless in a hospital bed, unable, even, to swallow – we quickly appreciate having Bauby’s thoughts as voiceover. In what some might see as a cruel stroke, his mental acuity is left intact, but many of his early thoughts are sarcastic and witty, providing some relief from the tension. Read more


Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Anderson, Roman Coppola & Jason Schwartzman
Director of photography Robert Yeoman
Edited by Andrew Weisblum
Released by Fox Searchlight
USA. 91 min. Rated R
With: Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Amara Karan, Camilla Rutherford, Irrfan Khan & Kumar Pallana

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About halfway into Wes Anderson’s latest film, there’s a horrible accident involving three Indian children crossing a river on a makeshift raft. Ostensibly they are brothers. To make their way across, they must work together. But the raft capsizes, and they plunge into the water. Another three brothers, American and quite a bit older in years – Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrian Brody), and Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) – happen to be walking along the river when the accident occurs. All three dive in to save the children but only manage to save two. Mortified, Peter stammers, “I couldn’t save mine.” This is not the only death affecting the Whitman brothers. One year earlier, they lost their father in a car accident. He was, apparently, the glue that held the family together.

The brothers reunite aboard the “Darjeeling Limited” to make the obligatory spiritual pilgrimage across India. Indeed, the journey is spiritual but not the one so neatly printed on the laminated schedules Francis hands out at the start of their trip. The brothers are literally carrying around an enormous amount of their father’s luggage, and it quickly becomes clear that they are also carrying around dad’s baggage as well. Some of the funniest moments deal with the brothers’ feelings of distrust for each other. Fights and hurt feelings are as constant as the Darjeeling’s moving wheels. No matter how much they may try to numb their pain through the constant ingesting of booze and the cheap narcotics – if you ever come across Narco-Cough, you’ll want to buy a bottle – or by visiting holy sites, it is their relationships that require healing. The train ride itself is only a portion of the trip since the brothers and their myriad luggage eventually get tossed off by an irate crew (the exception being one very lovely train stewardess, newcomer Amara Karan). Read more


Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Kelly Masterson
Edited by Tom Swartwout
Cinematography by Ron Fortunato
Original Music by Carter Burwell
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan & Rosemary Harris

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Master filmmaker Sidney Lumet latest effort, “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead”, is the tautest melodrama I’ve seen in quite some time and at 83, Lumet has lost none of his edge. While I didn’t necessarily find this new picture, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, and Rosemary Harris, to be on the par with, “Dog Day Afternoon” or “The Verdict” — both among my all-time favorite films — it certainly kept me in its grip from the moment go. The difference between this one and the other two is that this film is story driven while the others are character oriented. The story is as close to Greek or Shakespearean tragedy as one can get and at times the characters seem to be little more than vehicles propelling the story lines forward. But what story lines there are!

Sidney Lumet, Amy Ryan & Ethan Hawke from BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD; photo credit: Adam Schartoff © 2007

The opening sequence finds married couple Andy (Hoffman) and Gina Hanson (Tomei) in an exceptional moment of blissful passion while vacationing in Brazil and their post-coital dialog reveals a clearly unhappy marriage Andy is a real estate executive with a cushy office over looking Manhattan and an unhappy wife, Gina, who replaces feelings of emptiness with expensive meaningless objects and sex with her brother-in-law, Hank (Hawke). This is as much bliss as the picture is going to offer and over the course of the next 110 minutes there is just a sense of menace and dread. Tomei, naked through most of her scenes, might just get her career back on track with this role. Not sure if that’s a good thing or simply a sad case of what an actress has to do get herself noticed these days. Finney plays Charles, the stoic patriarch. Whoever came up with the idea to cast Albert Finney as Hoffman’s dad had a gem of an idea and the relationship between the two is a key element of this tale.