Rave reviews for Schnabel’s new film in which a paralysed man dictates a memoir with his eyeball

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” directed by painter-filmmaker Julian Schnabel.

I’m a big fan of Julian Schnabel’s films, especially Basquiat–what painter doesn’t appreciate the scene in the art gallery with Willem Dafoe as the older, undiscovered painter who works as an art installer?–so I’m pleased to read that the new one is equally good. Back in October, Time Out New York’s Dave Calhoun interviewed Schnabel before the film’s premiere at the London Film Festival. Calhoun thought the film delightful. “It may sound odd considering the subject, a man committed to a hospital bed, almost entirely paralysed. But Schnabel carves beauty from Bauby�s situation, both from his experiment with how to represent Bauby�s condition from an interior viewpoint � ie literally through Bauby�s own eyes � and from the release felt by Bauby when he begins to experience the wonderful freedom of writing. Schnabel uses a mixture of first-person and third-person perspectives, a chopped-up chronology and footage such as icebergs melting and a terrific aerial shot of a skier careening down a mountain to represent Bauby�s life and illness. His film is anything but a sappy bedside drama that�s weighed down by its own misery. ” Read more.

In the LA Times, Kenneth Turan writes that without Schnabel’s visual intelligence, the action-challenged story could never have been made into such a successful film.”Starting from Ronald Harwood’s script, filmmaker Schnabel, who learned French to make the story in its original language and won the best director prize at Cannes for his trouble, has avoided the obvious pitfalls and made virtues out of necessities. His imaginative and sensitive film, starring France’s gifted Mathieu Amalric, is simultaneously uplifting and melancholy, suffused with an unexpected sense of possibility as much as the inevitable sense of loss. This has happened in part because Schnabel, though he’s directed two other films, is at his core a visual artist. Working with the exceptional Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, he has infused the proceedings with the kind of imaginative feeling for rich and fecund imagery he brought to his earlier ‘Before Night Falls.'” Read more.

But in this week’s TONY, Josh Rothkopf appears to be one of the few critics who isn’t raving. “From his first Mary Boone solo show, art star Julian Schnabel has courted a provocateur�s stance: the bold, bearded enfant terrible who�s going to make you feel something, dammit. Succeed or fail, Schnabel would do it fully….but in The Diving Bell, Schnabel can�t seem to hit a consistent emotional tone. It�s not that his film veers wildly into sentiment, though it does that once or twice. Rather, it alternates with a fickleness between somewhat-dated pop grandeur, courtesy of U2 and Tom Waits, and the reservation of a much darker art film. Bauby is trapped in himself. Optimistically, Schnabel would like to fill such an ordeal with color, music and hot nurses. Wedding himself to Bauby�s real trauma, though, seems beyond him.” Read more.

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