The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Rated 5.0

(Ends Sun., Feb. 24) The latest offbeat big-screen enterprise from artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel proves to be a remarkable cinematic accomplishment. With key contributions from screenwriter Ronald Harwood and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Schnabel has fashioned an astonishingly effective film version of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s memoir, the slim volume that was published just days before his death in 1996. The Schnabel-Harwood rendition begins with the first moments of Bauby’s emerging from a coma and the first dawning awareness that his body is in a near-vegetative state (he is unable to speak, and his left eye and eyelid are the only parts of his body he can still move). He hears and sees and understands his caregivers (and visiting family and friends), but can communicate with them only through a painstakingly developed system of eye-blinks. The film creates a complex and persuasive sense of mental space, an emotional interior in which physical and temporal realities are both acknowledged and deflected, with modest but real blends of compassion and insight. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly has already won the Golden Globe for Best Director, and the Oscar folks have nominated it in that category as well.