When Depp Can't Do It; Superior Acting Marks the 60th Cannes Film Festival

By Thomas, Dana | Newsweek International, June 4, 2007 | Go to article overview

When Depp Can't Do It; Superior Acting Marks the 60th Cannes Film Festival


Thomas, Dana, Newsweek International


Byline: Dana Thomas

On Dec. 9, 1995, French Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby suffered a massive stroke while driving his young son down a country road in France. A few weeks later he woke up in a hospital in northern France, unable to move anything but his left eye. His condition was called locked-in syndrome; he saw it as being trapped in an old-fashioned diving bell, unable to communicate at all. But a creative speech therapist came up with a system in which she would recite the alphabet in the order of most commonly used letters and Bauby would blink when she got to the one he wanted. He managed to write an entire book this way, a meditation on his experience called "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." (The butterfly refers to coming out of his cocoon through blinking.) He died within days of its publication in 1997.

In the affecting screen adaptation by American artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel, which premiered to rapturous applause at Cannes last week, French actor Mathieu Amalric portrays the editor as a complex and unsentimental figure. Like the book, the movie explores not only Bauby's experience as an invalid but also his conscience; he reflects on his cruelty toward those who loved him--his companion, Sylvie (Emmanuelle Seigner), and their three children, whom he left months before his stroke, and his lover Henriette (Marie-Jose Croze)--and his own arrogance. "He realized he wasn't alive when he was alive," Schnabel told NEWSWEEK in Cannes. "With his book, he is telling us how to grab onto the present and make something out of it."

Fittingly, Schnabel approached the shooting of the film like a painter. He saw a scene in which a physical therapist carries Bauby into a swimming pool as a modern version of the "PietA ." He cropped images of people--half a face, a disembodied forearm--to give the audience Bauby's distorted point of view. For a scene in which Bauby's right eye is sewn shut to avoid infection, Schnabel stretched latex across the camera lens and had it sewn closed. …

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