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April 14, 2010
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
14/2/20081/4/2010Icon FilmsJulian Schnabel
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1MMathieu Amalric

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Mathieu Amalric as Elle editor Jean-Do.

So what the hell was The Diving Bell and the Butterfly? It wasn't a name I was familiar with but when I found out the French name, Le scaphandre et le papillon it sounded familiar. After doing some research it all came back. This was the film that received several nominations at the 2008 Academy Awards. In fact it was nominated for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published. It never won any of those awards, but remains a stellar movie.

Elle France editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, in 1995 at the age of 43, suffered a stroke that paralyzed his entire body, except his left eye. Using that eye to blink out his memoir, Bauby eloquently described the aspects of his interior world, from the psychological torment of being trapped inside his body to his imagined stories from lands he'd only visited in his mind.

Jean-Dominique Bauby is played by Mathieu Amalric (who most Australian cinema goers would recognise from his performance as Dominic Greene in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace). His performance here couldn't be any further removed from his role in that James Bond movie as he portrays someone completely paralized except for his left eye which remains his only form of communication. It's a stunning performance not unlike that of Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot.

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Max von Sydow has a small role in the film.
After watching this film I can only have a small sense of the horrors that Jean-Dominique, and the many other people around the world with similar conditions, must go through. The first time he learns to write a sentence is brutally slow and frustrating, but imagine writing an enter book like that. It's a feat that few of us would have been able to perceive, let alone achieve. What I found quite interesting is that the first third of the film is predominantly viewed from a first person perspective so you never really see the main character. This really gives you a sense of the characters perspective, and you can hear his inner monologue giving an insight into the "helplessness" which he must have felt. After a while though the film opens up to become more "traditional" and you see Bauby interacting with his surroundings.

In terms of historical accuracy there has been much debate on one major point; in the film it is Bauby's ex-wife that visits him regularly, according to family and friends, and even Bauby's book, his ex-wife only visited him in hospital only extremely occasionally however his girlfriend was the one visiting almost daily. Bauby also had only two children in real-life, in the movie he has three, while there are other minor changes. Still, that's just my fascination coming into play with real-life and movie events and you can read more about this particular film in this article (just don't read it before you check out the film as it's filled with spoilers).

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Dreaming of the nurses.
Being a French movie this film provides subtitles from start to finish, but they are in a clear, yellow font and easy to read. The only issue that we had was that as words are being spelt out they may state one letter, but a different one appears at the bottom of the screen. Why? Well of course a word in English is spelt differently in French.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a movie that I can't honestly say captured my fancy, however it really is a remarkable film worth your time. Engrossing.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is presented at 1.78:1 using the AVC MPEG-4 codec and while it isn't the most exciting transfer we have ever seen it's not terrible either with the 1080p image often looking quite sharp indeed. The video bitrate, according to our PS3, is regularly above 30Mbps which, as well as solid encoding means that compression artifacts are kept to a minimum although we noticed some light black crush, grain levels seem inconsistent and, at times, contrast levels seemed a little off. Towards the end of the film when Bauby is driving through Paris it looks like there was even some dirt on the lens of the camera as there are some very feint marks that appear in a couple of different shots.

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Writing by blinking when the letter is read out!
Some images though, such as those underwater in the diving suit, look considerably more grainy then others while we also noticed some colour banding, very light mind you, at times. A couple of scenes exhibited some light edge enhancements, some slight strobing effects and some shadow detail issues. Still, they are all minor issues, never distracting unless you are looking for them.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is presented on Blu-Ray with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (16-bit/48Khz) as well as a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track. We sampled both tracks and settled on the DTS track which seemed to have a little more punch overall. Still, a very dialogue driven movie, which is clear and sounds pretty impressive although quite front heavy.

There are no subtitle tracks on this disc other then the English subtitles which, obviously most people will require to understand this movie.

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On a photo shoot for Elle magazine.
Sadly there are no extras at all on this release, quite possibly as they would have been in French and not suitable for us without extensive translation. Still, a remarkable story, and with four Academy Award nominations I would have hoped for a bit more effort on this release even if only subtitled.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I started watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly but it was a remarkable film about a remarkable person who has suffered one of the cruelest medical conditions. Don't expect any action sequences but rather a wonderful, dramatic, movie.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Icon Films. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.