The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Individuals experience and express a vast range of emotions when faced with challenging life circumstances. Frustration, anger, hope, and determination are among said sentiments. Some may also avoid facing life-altering fears and encounters, later regretting their evasion. However, the course of life events may swerve such that our approach to opposition is tested and there is no option but perseverance. “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” is a powerfully constructed Academy Award-nominated French film directed by Julian Schnabel, delving into these ideas. The true story of the film is in itself quite remarkable, but the methods of its conveyance are equally incredible.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric) was the very successful editor of the French ELLE magazine, and also has three children. He suffered a very severe stroke affecting his brainstem at the young age of 42, resulting in locked-in syndrome. Bauby could clearly understand every word spoken to him. However, he was unable to communicate verbally and was also completely paralyzed. The extremely strong-willed speech language pathologist Henriette Durand (Marie-Josee Croze) used a French language frequency-ordered alphabet to encourage communication with Bauby, as he would blink with his left eye to verify specific letters to be used to create words and sentences. It was with great resolve and fortitude that he decided to fulfill his contract with a local publisher. This process was thus initiated with the aid of patient stenographer Claude Mendibil (Anne Consigny).

This film was unfortunately ineligible for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2008 due its production by the American Kennedy-Marshall Company. It was nominated for four awards however, including Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood), Best Film Editing (Juliette Welfling), and Best Cinematography (Janusz Kaminski). These were all very deserving, in my opinion. Bauby’s first person perspective and narrative are imperative in empathizing with him in his dire situation. This also allows us to appreciate the imagination and memories that he dearly cherishes, as we all must cling to these as a means of identity preservation. The interweaving of the past and present combined with beautiful and sometimes harsh images of nature enhance the storytelling, creating a contrast between the joys and sorrows of daily life.

As briefly mentioned in the previous paragraph, the beauty and bleakness of existence are frequently discussed in the film. The title of the film alludes to this as well. The images and references of a diving bell represents the sensation of confinement that is a part of Bauby’s new reality. However, the butterfly images and references signify positivity, hope, and perseverance within this entrapment. Other characters express former and current sentiments of captivity to Bauby as a means of boosting his coping skills and outlook. Overall, I believe that humans feel a variety of restrictions in self-expression. For example, one character in the film was once held hostage while another’s mobility was highly limited and thus could not leave their apartment. As stated in the film, maintaining one’s sense of humanity and integrity through these situations provides great motivation and a will to live. I feel that this ideology rings true to so many challenging situations we face, and that tenacity is achieved through this core belief.

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This movie review is part of the “31 Days of Oscar” Blogathon hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen…, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. I am very excited to take part in this blogathon, and look forward to reading a wide variety of interesting posts!

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The Earrings of Madame de… (1953)

Many inanimate objects have a particular monetary value. Materials used in an item’s development, its demand, or certain components of the market for which it is usually targeted and sold may determine its worth. They may also have a strong sentimental significance, representing a pivotal life changes or nostalgia. A compelling bond with this treasure may also reveal specific yet unexpected aspects of our personal values. In the exquisite French film “The Earrings of Madame de…”, directed by Max Ophuls in 1953, the main characters’ secrets and frustrations evolve through the changing distribution and ties with a pair of earrings.

Louise (Danielle Derreux) and Andre (Charles Boyer) are a seemingly loving, wealthy couple living in late 1800’s Paris. However, there is not an ounce of passion in their marriage, and Louise has accumulated a great deal of debt due to her supreme extravagance. She therefore decides to sell a heart-shaped pair of earrings given to her by her husband for a past wedding anniversary to the original seller and local jeweler, Monsieur Remy (Jean Debucourt). At this point, the earrings have no emotional worth to Louise as they symbolize a reminder of her more hopeful marital past. It is from this point that the earrings begin their geographic and emotional journey, travelling between continents and through the hands of lovers associated with the unhappily married couple. One such admirer is portrayed by acclaimed Italian director and actor, Vittorio de Sica.

The earrings play a crucial role in the plot as indicated in the film’s title. However, the anonymity and ambiguity of Louise’s surname is also essential in understanding her life circumstances. Women always adopted their husbands’ surnames during that era, and the viewer can assume that is Louise’s case. This longstanding custom has often signified an enmeshment of patriarch of the household into the female, melding the more dominant male role into her own identity. As well, the viewer never hears her surname due to clever editing techniques. I feel as if all of these elements convey Louise’s lost individuality, emptiness, and daily guilt. As the main character, many live a life whereby they conceal their true self for fear of persecution, abandonment, and change. This stifling can create extreme tension, snowballing into a constant sense of dread. The context and environment of one’s trepidation may undergo a transformation such that relief and freedom of originality can spur creativity and pure joy, but it may remain such that the least desired outcomes continue to be entrenched in reality.

 

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A Day in the Country (1936)

Vacations are meant to be utilized as necessary escapes from the realities and struggles of everyday life. There is often a balance between great preparation and spontaneity in the construction of this elaborate repose, whereby individuals may meet locals quite familiar with the area being visited. A sense of wonderment experienced by those vacationing may not be apparent to residents due to extreme familiarity. There may be a discrepancy between lifestyle and surroundings between the two groups, creating a sense of awe and congeniality. This dynamic is explored in Jean Renoir’s understated unfinished 1936 film entitled “A Day in the Country” or “Partie de campagne”.

A wealthy shop owner, Monsieur Dufour (Andre Gabriello), and his family from Paris opt to travel to the beautiful, natural countryside along the Seine River one summer day in 1860. They are treated to great local hospitality, and are given a great meal as well as fishing rods! However, two men set their sights on wooing Dufour’s wife (Jane Marken) and daughter Henriette (Sylvia Bataille). Henri (Georges D’Arnoux) creates delightful chemistry with Henriette, who is unfortunately engaged to her father’s clumsy apprentice, Anatole (Paul Temps). Her planned future may thus unhinge, as her heart’s new feelings may not align with the romance that has been conveniently prescribed. The gorgeous scenery and somewhat remote location aid in amplifying these sentiments.

The events and emotions that one encounters during one particular day may change the course of one’s life. Pivotal moments can happen when least expected, such as an employment opportunity, or may be in our awareness for quite a while, like the birth of a child. “A Day in the Country” effortlessly demonstrates this concept, with an innocent trip leading Henriette to question the course of her destiny as a partner and wife. Events such as these have a ripple effect, whereby choices made stemming from these occurrences can alter our life’s passage. These decisions may have positive or negative effects, further guiding us on our journey. Thus, the struggle of weighing passion versus practicality is very genuine.

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La Belle et la Bete (1946)

Fairy tales have been dazzling young children for centuries. They relish in the imaginative worlds conveyed in these creations during storytime at school as well as prior to drifting asleep. Beneath the exterior fantasy of these narratives are themes relevant in the day-to-day lives of adults – jealousy, betrayal, and conflict. Children are subliminally exposed to these truths through these elaborate plots only to realize as adults the harsh actualities of the stories. “La Belle et la Bete” (1946) is one such tale, magnificently directed by Jean Cocteau in movie format while Nazis occupied Paris.

Belle (Josette Day) and her family are in extreme debt. After travelling to a nearby town with failed hopes of inheriting a fortune, her dearly loved father (Marcel Andre) stumbles upon obtaining a rose for Belle as per her request. This leads him into an inconceivably beautiful garden and castle, where inanimate objects are anything but. He also meets the Beast (Jean Marais) who condemns him to death for picking a highly coveted rose, but his death will be absconded if a daughter can go in his place. Belle takes this role without hesitation, and her journey into the Beast’s world begin. Enmeshment, anger, disgust, and questions of possession unravel as their relationship develops with familial worries and conflict playing a major role in Belle’s future.

The title of the film can have a multitude of interpretations relevant to the fairy tale as well as means by which this film came to fruition. All individuals have positive and negative qualities, with some outshining others as integral components of our personality and coping strategies. While Belle copes with poverty through selflessness, her sisters Adelaide (Nane Germon) and Felicie (Mila Parely) adapt through selfishness and manipulation, especially towards Belle. The Beast grows to love Belle and cannot imagine a life without her, but excessively dominates her freedom. Thus, themes of jealousy, guilt, oppression, trust, and revenge all emerge from a story “most appropriate for children”. The medium of this particular film expresses these themes with the aid of careful and innovative editing and set design. Extravagant budgets and sets were not possible in this war-torn area of Europe, and thus a claustrophobic yet mystical aura materializes from the direction. Thus, there is a simultaneous “beauty” and “beast” in all individuals and in circumstances in which we find ourselves.

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Pickpocket (1959)

The orchestration of an unlawful event requires a great deal of planning and co-ordination. Those involved are quite aware of law enforcement’s potential interception of their illegal activities. However, they venture regardless for the sake of greed, power, bravado, and the ultimate thrill of successfully tiptoeing around danger. These activities are quite varied, with shoplifting being one such pursuit. The theft conveyed in the 1959 Robert Bresson film “Pickpocket” mirrors such pristine organization, as well as carefully examining the central character’s motives and growing desire to become an “expert” in this field of crime.

Michel, played by Martin LaSalle, is a young male living in poverty in Paris. He is also quite obstinate in job propositions. As an amateur pickpocket, his successes are initially limited. Upon meeting more seasoned members of this trade, he is taught a multitude of means to obtain money and valuable items. The fruits of their labour are later displayed in highly crisp, choreographed sequences, whereby a variety of wallets and other prized items vanish from their proprietors. Michel’s personal relationships with close family, friends, and the police are also explored in this film. It is no surprise that initial query necessity turned obsession with theft has an influence on the integrity of these bonds.

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on “Au Hasard Balthazar”, Bresson’s magic ingredient is simplicity. A plethora of themes emerge from this quietly acted film, which delve into all emotions associated with any act for which society has great disdain. Suspicion, deception, addiction, and exploitation are all components of Michel’s facade and contrasting inner turmoil while navigating through his newly minted escapade. Furthermore, dialogue commenting on spirituality unfolds during the film, with one’s degree of adequacy and acceptance within the eyes of God taking centre stage. It is interesting to view Michel’s cold exterior yet internalization of this question contrast to the more demure and concerned Jeanne (Marika Green). He is aware of his potential future as well as current reality based on his choices. However, others may deride feelings associated with deceiving acts, either avoiding or highly engaging in spirituality or good deeds as a means of redemption. Overall, I feel that this film subtly reminds us of the possibilities that humans can embark on in their life journey, and the means by which they come to terms with the impact of their decisions on the lives of others.

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Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

The expedition that individuals take throughout the course of their time on Earth can be quite diverse, and is dependent on a conglomerate of factors. Some roads travelled are directly under our authority whereas others are powered by elements beyond our control. The ratio between the level of autonomy versus dominance in a life journey is also influenced by many components, with gender, employment, family dynamics, and socioeconomic status being examples. The life course of pets and animals in service are almost completely controlled by humans. This may paradoxically lead them to travel haphazardly through life from one owner to the next, blindly following commands. The beautifully constructed 1966 Robert Bresson film “Au Hasard Balthazar” explores the random yet stifling journey of an innocent donkey with the aforementioned name.

As a young colt, Balthazar is treasured by two young children in the local village with a cute, budding romance named Jacques and Marie. Jacques’ family moves abruptly during his childhood, and their farm is entrusted to Marie’s family, including the care of sweet Balthazar. The film then flash forwards years later, and we begin following the donkey throughout his life course under multiple ownerships. The affection and bond both he and Marie share anchors the film’s trajectory, but the darker aspects of human nature weave through the narrative.

Bresson’s understated style involved the creation of richness in stories through simplicity in the film’s surroundings as well as through acting. It is through this approach that themes of innocence and exploitation emerge, paralleling the lives of Marie and her beloved Balthazar. Both are quite naive about the surrounding world, being manipulated by ignorant and arrogant humans for their own benefit. It is an important reminder that oppression of many creatures, including humans, in seemingly lower positions of power occurs quite regularly. All natural environments and those living within them deserve to be treated with care and respect, and it is an injustice to our true potential as citizens of the Earth when this responsibility is abused. 1421445154-auhasard

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