“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” was overlooked at this year’s Oscars, where it received nominations for best director, screenplay, cinematography and editing. With its DVD release, viewers can take the time to fully appreciate the film’s life-affirming journey.
The film tells the remarkable true story of former Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby (“Quantum of Solace” baddie Mathieu Amalric). A stroke left him with “locked-in syndrome,” a condition that spares the mind but paralyzes the body. Bauby’s mobility was left to a single eyelid, which he used to blink his autobiography one letter at a time.
Although the single disc’s modest special features sometimes overlap, they provide the film with vital context. The highlight is Schnabel’s appearance on “Charlie Rose,” in which the host coaxed the eccentric helmer into revealing that the film was a “self-help device” that made Schnabel “a lot less scared to die.” Schnabel, who dedicated the film to his father’s memory, said he felt compelled to make the movie because his own father was gravely ill and he wanted to help ease his father’s fear of death.
A seven-minute featurette, “A Cinematic Vision,” looks at the partnership between Schnabel and veteran cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, who was tasked with putting the audience in Bauby’s wheelchair so they can experience the story from his point of view.
”Submerged” is a fairly standard 12-minute making-of that offers Amalric time to discuss his acting process and the difficulty of communicating to an audience with a single eye. Producers Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik sing Schnabel’s praises and talk about the project’s development. Schnabel disrobes for his art, removing his trademark pajamas to wade into ice-cold water with Amalric on his shoulders in order to get a shot of Bauby sitting in his chair in the middle of the ocean.
The director himself offers low-key audio commentary, deflecting much of the credit for the film’s success to his cast and crew and opting for long passages of silence rather than forced anecdotes. When he does speak, he chooses precise language that effectively communicates how personal this project was for him.
The disc’s transfer is excellent; English and Spanish dubs are included for viewers who may be averse to subtitles. Fans searching for the film’s trailer will find it included early in the Rose interview.