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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

I decided to stop pitying myself. Other than my eye, two things aren’t paralyzed, my imagination and my memory.

— Jean-Dominique Bauby

I have wanted to watch Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly for years, but I have not had the chance to watch until I saw it at the local library. The #220 Movie of All-Time on IMDb was nominated for four Oscars including Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. I was so happy that I watched this film.

Based on the book of the same name, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly recounts the harrowing story of French Elle editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) who was living the life when he is suddenly struck by a massive stroke. He wakes up after a three-week coma in a hospital in Bereck-sur-Mer. The audience could hear Jean-Do talking, but he does not realize that he cannot speak or move anything on his body, except his left eye.

Most of the movie is shown at Jean-Do’s perspective. Very first person. The audience could connect with the lead character this way and gets a taste of his new state of being. His personal doctor Lepage (Patrick Chesnais) discusses with him that he had a cerebrovascular episode that rendered him a vegetable except for blinking in his left eye, otherwise called “Locked-In Syndrome.”

The staff starts the rehabilitation program to help him regain some range of motion. You notice more and more that Jean-Do is always internally flirting with his female speech therapist, Henriette Roi (Marie-Josée Croze). He communicates with blinking once for “yes” and two for “no”, which progresses to Henriette teaching the alphabet in order of frequently used.

Jean-Do does not want to live with Locked-in Syndrome. He wants to die. He has momentary glimpses of his former life being the toast of the town, having a family with his companion, Céline (Emmanuelle Seigner) and being in love with his mistress, Inès (Agathe de La Fontaine). He recounts his many regrets and missed opportunities in his life. Jean-Do wants to tell his story. He decided to dictate his memoirs through Claude (Anne Consigny) one letter at a time.

I cannot imagine anybody except for an artist like Schnabel to make this movie happen. He paints a picture of sorrow, heartbreak, regret, but ultimately it is hopeful. No matters what life throws at you, you can overcome all obstacles. This speaks to the determination of Jean-Do, who did not want to exist, he wanted to leave his mark on life.

The cinematography transfixes the audience to the mindset of Jean-Do, to experience what he is experiencing. It was a great piece of cinema to gaze upon. You would think that hearing the alphabet being repeated a million times would annoy the hell out of you, but it didn’t.

Judgment: This is a perfect example of art imitating life.

Rating: 9/10

A Christmas Tale (2008)

I’ve heard nothing but good things about writer/director Arnaud Desplechin’s film, A Christmas Tale. Knowing the basic plot of the story, I was intrigued to see this movie. It has a Metacritic score of 84. What was something lost in translation or is this terrible mess of a film? Don’t get me wrong. I love French movies, but not all of them are brilliant. Case in point, this one.

The Vuillard family in this film makes the Burnham family in American Beauty look like the Brady Bunch. No lie. This family has been irrecoverably broken when the first son, Joseph develops a form of lymphoma and dies when he could not get a donor in time.

Fast forward thirty-five years, the middle son, Henri (Mathieu Amalric) is unceremoniously banished — excuse me, who banishes people anymore? What is it the 1500s? — from his family by his big sister, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) who is hoarding some unresolved animosity toward her brother. That might be a blessing in disguise because these people are batshit crazy. Literally.

Five years, Elizabeth is so eager to cut Henri out of his life, but she still talks about him during her therapy sessions. She is a complete basket case when her playwriting career didn’t take off the way it should, because of Henri’s dealing with stealing from the theater that housed her plays.

The unloving matriarch, Junon played by the regal Catherine Deneuve learns that she has refractory anemia attributed to her liver cancer diagnosis. The news leave her husband, Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) dumbfounded. Junon needs a bone marrow transplant to any chance to survive. Due to her rare blood type, she has to test her immediate family, which has to include Henri who lives with his cousin, Simon (Laurent Capelluto).

Upon hearing the Junon’s news, Elizabeth’s mentally unstable son, Paul (Emile Berling) has a break down, is hospitalized and tested. He is a match for a donor. He is released from the hospital pumped full of pharmaceutical drugs. He seems to know where his uncle works at even though they never seen each other before to invite him to spend time with the family during Christmastime.

To prepare for the inevitable fallout, Henri writes a letter to Elizabeth to tell her about being civil towards one another through his maniacal drunken ramblings. When the family comes together, they tend to be awkward and distant toward each other. The younger brother, Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) tries to be peacekeeper of the family. In a convenient twist, Henri is tested to be compatible as well. Dun-dun-dun. Junon has a choice; will she accept marrow from a grandson she barely knows or her son that she openly despises? Decisions, decisions.

The ultimate question to pose to you, dear reader, is what is the point of this movie? These people are horrible towards each other for seemingly no reason. They gave up on being a family. They are miserable human beings that make me not want to spend time with them. What were Desplechin intentions here? The central “mystery” of the movie was never solved. Throw the viewer a bone. You don’t have to spell it out. Give us something to work with. Why was Elizabeth so pissed at Henri? Why did she try to keep Paul away from him when they were in a room together?

The movie strives to be grandiose, but it hinges on the melodramatic. What the hell was up with the peephole camera transitions? That bothers the hell out of me. Do we need the subplot of Ivan’s lazy wife, Sylvia (Chiara Mastroianni) try to have a fling with Simon? Who cares? This movie was 2 ½ hours long. It felt longer. It was agony.

Judgment: How could anybody recommend this movie?

Rating: * 1/2

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