A Visual Knockout


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007) is a biographical drama film based on Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir of the same name. It starred actor Mathieu Amalric as Bauby.

 
 

The film is a visual knockout. Schnabel draws on Bauby’s fantasies to blast moviegoers with a kaleidoscope of dreamy images — some subtle, some banging loud — and an array of captivating music and sounds. Critically acclaimed, the film received many awards and nominations including the Best Director Prize at Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film & Best Director, as well as 4 Academy Award nominations.It would go on to win numerous international awards, including a BAFTA for adapted screenplay, and Golden Globes for best foreign language film and best director.

Although made in France with a French-speaking cast, the film was originally to be produced by the American company Universal Studios, and the screenplay was originally in English, with Johnny Depp slated to star as Bauby. According to the screenwriter, Ronald Harwood, the choice of Julian Schnabel as director was recommended by Depp. Universal subsequently withdrew, and Pathé took up the project two years later. Depp dropped the project due to scheduling conflicts with Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. (Gore Verbinski, 2007) Schnabel remained as director. The film was eventually produced by Pathé and France 3 Cinéma, in association with Banque Populaire Images 7 and the American Kennedy/Marshall Company, and in participation with Canal+ and Ciné Cinémas.

Painter-director Julian Schnabel said his influence for the film was drawn from personal experience:
“My father got sick and he was dying. He was terrified of death and had never been sick in his life. So he was in this bed at my house, he was staying with me, and this script arrived for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. As my father was dying, I read Ron Harwood’s script. It gave me a bunch of parameters that would make a film have a totally different structure. As a painter, as someone who doesn’t want to make a painting that looks like the last one I made, I thought it was a really good palette. So personally and artistically these things all came together.”

The script written for the film has been criticized by Bauby’s closest circle of friends as not faithful to events and biased in favor of his ex-partner. His late-life partner Florence Ben Sadoun claims to have been a faithful companion, visiting him frequently at Berck-sur-Mer, the hospital where he lived during his final days. Bauby notes her visits in his memoir. Sylvie de la Rochefoucauld also claims to have visited him frequently at the hospital.

While Bauby was still alive, French director Jean-Jacques Beineix made a 25-minute film, Assigné à résidence (or House Arrest), that captured Bauby in his paralysed state, and the process of the book’s composition

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