On iPlayer: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

In 1995, Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of French Elle, suffered a major stroke, leaving him completely paralysed apart from a single eyelid. He painstakingly dictated his memoirs to his assistant, Claude (Anne Consigny) by blinking as she read out letters. This is the film based on his memoirs and the process of writing them.

While this is a film which clearly deals with difficult subject matter, and isn’t an obviously cinematic story, the way it’s adapted for the screen is nothing short of superb. Most of the first forty minutes takes place from the view of Jean-Dominique (Mathieu Amalric) starting at as he wakes up in hospital. Our process of getting to know him runs in tandem with his getting to know his new self, and adapting to his new life. We are given access to his highly restricted point of view, but also insight into his mind and his thoughts on his surroundings.

This approach brilliantly captures the sheer claustrophobic restriction of his situation, juxtaposed with snippets from his memory and imagination, the only two things apart from his eye, he tells us, that aren’t constrained. Creating understanding of the person’s condition is a crucial part of a film like this, which it succeeds in doing by literally allowing us to see things through his eyes.

That being said, this isn’t a sob story, staying true to the desire asserted by Jean-Dominique in the film not to self pity. Instead he makes the best of his situation, with his wry humour creeping into the film.

Moving, compelling and poetic, this film could not have been more well done. It’s as enjoyable as it is thought provoking and gives a fascinating insight into a terrible condition.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is on iPlayer until 9 November.

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