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"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" by Julian Schnabel

Presented in Competition at this 60th Cannes Festival, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is Julian Schnabel's third feature-length film, following Basquiat (1996) and Before Night Falls (2000). The film is an adaptation of the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby, whose life changed completely in 1995 when he had a massive stroke. The 43-year-old journalist, father of two children, spent twenty days in a deep coma. When he woke up, he found the damage to his brain stem had resulted in a rare form of paralysis called "locked-in syndrome." He couldn't move or speak, and he needed a respirator to breathe. The only part of his inert body that he could control was one eyelid. This eyelid became his link to the world, to other people, and to life.

Speaking of his intentions as he adapted the book, Julian Schnabel says: "In his book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Jean-Dominique Bauby is addressing both himself and all of us. Does it take locked-in-syndrome to make a human being conscious, to make others emphathize? Do we have to get sick for the angels to appear and help us? (...) This is a story for all of us, who surely do face death and sickness. But if we look, we can find meaning and beauty there. I wanted the film to be a tool, like his book, a self-help device that can help you handle your own death. that's what I was hoping for, that's why I did it."



Press conference:


The whole crew of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was on hand in the press room to speak about the film. With director Julian Schnabel were actors Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Seigner, Marina Hands, Marie-Josée Croze, Anne Consigny, and Olatz Lopez Garmendia, as well as producers Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik. They commented on their intentions in making this adaptation of the autobiographical book by locked-in Jean-Dominique Bauby. Highlights follow.

Julian Schnabel, on his decision to shoot the film in France: "Jean-Dominique Bauby was a French writer living in a French hospital. I wanted my film to restore this French feeling. I did not want to cast American actors. They would have spoken English, and we would have had to subtitle the film for French release. That would have been ridiculous. In addition, I didn't want to make the film elsewhere than in Berck Hospital, because the landscapes, the mood, and the nurses were vital to the credibility of the adaptation."

Mathieu Amalric on the validity of this adaptation: "I wondered how a film of this book could be made. (...) When I met Julian Schnabel, I immediately sensed his need to direct the film. I said to myself, maybe there's some way we can avoid being crooks and exploiting someone's misfortune. I understood that it was possible. Besides, I saw how Julian was working with the script: we weren't just coloring in the pictures, on the set; we were going to invent more. The more I think about it, the more I realize one didn't necessarily have to be an actor for this film, just a human being."

On the pleasure of playing their respective roles:

Marie-Josée Croze: "It's such an enormous piece of luck to participate in a project like this, and to work with Julian, who is also a painter. Personally, the role in itself doesn't interest me that much. It's the idea of being part of a project that conveys a message I agree with. To participate in a film is to give your opinion about the world. It's a sublime story, staged by an artist whose work touches me deeply."

Marina Hands: "The interaction with Julian is so full of humanity, it goes way beyond playing a character, beyond the contours of a role."

Anne Consigny: "I questioned Claude, the "chalk" [the secretary], to find out how she'd felt before meeting Jean-Dominique Bauby for the first time. She told me she hadn't had stage fright: just the feeling that she was needed there, that it was the right place for her to be. When I read the script, I got the same feeling: this was the right place for me."

Mathieu Amalric on the challenges of his role: "The voice was something incredible. For me, the voice was always essential to being inhabited by a character. It was the pathway for my body. I imagine that for all the other actors, it must have been terribly difficult. When I saw them playing with the lens of an extremely cold camera... I couldn't help them, I couldn't be there. To myself, I thought, "We're living two different films." In the beginning, that thought helped me experience solitude. (...) And I realized that silence gives you immense power."


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