Le scaphandre et le papillon [The Diving Bell And The Butterfly] (2007)

(In theaters, February 2008) I really didn’t want to see this film: Stories of people overcoming physical handicaps to find peace, happiness and Oscar nominations aren’t high on my list of priorities, but when a film gets four such nominations, well, I can always follow the crowd and make an effort. So when I say that the film managed to overcome my own preconceptions, you can figure out that it’s something special. Adapted from the true story of a man almost completely paralyzed by a stroke and left with the control of only one eye, Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon takes an intensely subjective approach to its subject at first. Thanks to focus issues and staccato movements meant to represent human eye motion, the film sticks the viewer inside the protagonist’s head as he has to figure out how to communicate with the world again. It’s a painful, sometimes horrifying process, minutely detailed while the basics for communications are re-established in far more than the blink of an eye. (I deny anyone not to hyperventilate during one particular scene in which sewing needles are involved.) It’s a brilliant piece of cinema, and it more than establishes the protagonist’s situation before we are allowed, once again, objective camera angles. I don’t think anyone could have expected a better adaptation of nigh-impossible source material. There’s some biting humor through it all, though the film becomes increasingly predictable and conventional the longer it went on. But the result is exceptional (if not always pleasant, at least seldom preachy) and it has a good chance to stick in memory long after the rest of the Oscar-nominated slate of 2007 has faded in memory.

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