THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY: Interesting, Falls Short of Great

When a film approaches the top of the heap at Half Popped Reviews, I like to make sure I’ve seen it. That’s the only reason I put THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY on my “To Watch” list. All in all, I’m glad I saw it, but I absolutely don’t understand why this film is lauded by some as one of the best films of all time.

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It’s the true story of how a stroke left a French magazine editor a mute quadraplegic, and the efforts involved in helping him learn to communicate again. The premise isn’t anything spectacular, though with the film’s presentation, it didn’t have to be.

Switching in and out of a first person perspective, viewers are forced to empathize with the protagonist’s plight through his limited and tedious means of communication. His frustrated inner-monologue gives the raw emotions he’s feeling, yet he’s forced to painstakingly spell things out by responsive blinking as a therapist goes through a list of letters.

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Seeing Mathieu Amalric portray Jean-Dominique Bauby both pre- and post-stroke, it almost seems like two totally different actors. Very few times have I seen someone transform themselves so fully for a role, and so successfully. This is really the extent of the praise I can give the acting performances, however. No one else in the film stood out, though it’s easy to understand how they might get overshadowed even if there were any meaty roles.

The conclusion of the film was abrupt. To say it was clumsily handled would be to assume that it was handled at all. It felt as though someone ran out of money and time and put stock footage in place for the final two minutes prior to the credits, while textual overlay explained the fate of those involved. I wish I was using hyperbole here, but I think it might have actually been stock footage. It had almost nothing to do with anything in the entire film. It didn’t even relate to the metaphor used in the film’s title, which had plenty of room for using relevant stock footage… and someone chose not to.

While I realize that this was something of an artsy, experimental film heavy on the drama and character development, I am capable of enjoying that sort of film, but this one just didn’t do much of anything for me.

My rating: 65 out of 100

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