Director Julian Schnabel's long-awaited follow-up to 2000's "Before Night Falls" and 1996's "Basquiat", "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a Golden Globe winning effort (Best Foreign) that focuses on Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathiew Amalric), the Elle magazine editor who suffered a stroke in 1995 that left him paralyzed and only able to communicate only via blinking his left eye. He suffered from a rare condition known as "locked-in syndrome", where he is alive, but seemingly unable to communicate with the outside world.
His speech therapist comes up with a complex and unlikely form of communication using a system of blinks. Believe it or not, Bauby manages to use this system of blinks in order to write (with assistance) his memoirs, which were completed in 1997 before he passed away. Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Spielberg's frequent collaborator) manage to capture the fascinating tale of courage and determination with beauty and soul.
Amalric is certainly powerful portraying a man whose inner strength and imagination allows him to live on after a tragic incident resulted in him waking up in what many would consider a nightmarish state. Emmanuelle Seigner is also moving as Bauby's estranged wife, who continues to support him as best as she can as he tries to cope with being contained within his own mind.
The film's cinematography, writing, performances and directing are stellar, but what really ties everything together nicely is the film's somewhat subdued way of handling the story. The picture is genuinely uplifting, but through the strength of its performances, writing and haunting visuals. This could have easily been an overly sentimental, sappy feature in the hands of another, but Schnabel and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski do an outstanding job presenting the story in a simple and poetic fashion that remains haunting well after the credits have rolled.
VIDEO: Miramax Films presents the movie in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Image quality is generally terrific, as it presents the film's particular style quite well. Kaminski and Schnabel employ different larger techniques and smaller touches (such as blurring a part of the screen) to often put the viewer in the midst of Bauby's experiences. Sharpness and detail vary, but do appear to be as solid as possible, given the stylistic choices of the movie. Mild grain - likely an intentional element of the cinematography - is seen at times, as well. Aside from some slight edge enhancement, the picture is free of any considerable concerns. Colors look a tad subdued, but flesh tones look fine.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (French w/English subtitles) offered up the kind of dialogue-driven presentation one would expect, given the material. Surrounds do kick in at times to deliver some minor ambience or reinforcement of the score, but otherwise remain quiet. Audio quality was fine, with crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Director Julian Schnabel offers a commentary for the feature and offers his thoughts again in a lengthy and informative Charlie Rose interview. We also get two featurettes: "A Cinematic Vision" and "Submerged" (a general making-of.)
Final Thoughts: A powerful true tale of courage and inner strength, "Diving Bell and the Butterfly" is a marvelous effort from Schnabel and the film's wonderful cast. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality and a very nice supply of extras. Recommended.
The Film A