May 27, 2007

"I thought I was making a movie about a paralysed guy but I realised I was making a film about women."

Says Julian Schabel, accepting the directing award at Cannes, for his film "The Butterfly and the Diving Bell," which is based on a book that I was just recommending here. I had no idea there was a film.
The subject of the film, Jean-Dominque Bauby, was a fast-living playboy, the toast of the Paris fashion world, until he suffered a debilitating stroke at the age of 42.

Schnabel shows him waking up in a seaside hospital after weeks in a coma and suffering from what a neurologist calls "locked-in syndrome" -- he is unable to speak or move any part of his body apart from his left eyelid.

The title refers to Bauby's feeling of being trapped in his body, which has come to resemble the airtight chamber of a diving bell, and his still active mind, still agile as a butterfly.
He writes a beautiful memoir by way of that one eyelid and dies 10 days after it is published. How to make a movie out of that? Schnabel's quote hints.

ADDED: And the Palme d'Or goes to a Romanian film about abortion, "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" by Cristian Mungiu:
"Pitch perfect and brilliantly acted, '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days' is a stunning achievement, helmed with a purity and honesty that captures not just the illegal abortion story at its core but the constant, unremarked negotiations necessary for survival in the final days of the Soviet bloc," reviewer Jay Weissberg wrote....

Mungiu offers a shocking image of the aborted foetus, but it is the abortionist's graphic description of the process and his chilling exploitation of the women's dilemma that make for particularly excruciating viewing....

"Because of the pressure of the regime, women and families were so much concerned about not being caught for making an illegal abortion that they didn't give one minute of thought about the moral issue," he told reporters.

"It was either you or them getting you for what you did."

He put the foetus on screen to serve as a reminder to audiences. "It makes a point -- people should be aware of the consequences of their decisions," he said.
This sounds as though it will upset those who are both pro- and anti-abortion, which may be a good thing. I support abortion rights but think people should face up to "the consequences of their decisions."


Emy L. Nosti said...

Heard about this author around February and posted, questioning if they could develop brain scans so that those who didn't even have use of an eyelid could communicate. Turns out they've started doing this already (albeit in a rather inefficient, unverifiable way IMO): in the May '07 SciAm issue there's a fascinating article called "Eyes Open, Brain Shut" [subscription required]. To quote myself:
Though the author takes until the last page to get around to it, they mention a PVS [persistant vegetative state] patient whom they asked to imagine playing tennis in their head. The fMRI lit up in the same places as the control subjects, thus indicating two-way communication is possible. I’m not sure this definitively proves a conscious awareness of performing the task, but it’s certainly a great start.

Titus said...

Schnabel is an artist that has gotten into films. He has done two incredible films one about Jean Baptiste and "Before Night Falls" about the writer Reynaldo Arenas from Cuba.

"Before Night Falls" is one of favorite movies of all time. If you haven't seen it rent or buy the book. It is a great story about a gay poet imprisoned in Cuba after Castro comes to power. It is a true story and an amazing life lived.

PatCA said...

"'Before Night Falls' is one of favorite movies of all time." Me too.

A Romanian student told me that during the regime, not only were abortions illegal, women were under suspicion if they weren't pregnant. Regular gynecological exams were mandatory, and if you weren't pregnant regularly, you had some explaining to do. One of many chilling stories. All because Coucescu wanted Romania to expand.

vrse said...

a refined and intellectual feminist using the term "pro-abortion." Very refreshing...

PeterP said...


I like that word. Very Tolkien. I shall use it henceforth.

Dave said...

Before Night Falls was quite good. Basquiat was ok.

Personally, I think Schnabel's best creations are his daughters, to whom I would provide a link, however, I have forgotten the young lasses' names...


I've seen him walking around town; he's a big, rotund bear of a man. He cuts a physical presence not unlike Mario Batali.

As for Cannes--a much more interesting place when the festival is not going on.

J. Cricket said...

I support abortion rights"

Sure you do, professor. That is why you: (1) voted for George W., (2)supported Alito and Roberts, and (3) keep eliminating Democratic candidates, while fawning all over Repulbicans who despise abortion rights.

The abortion rights movement doesn't need your kind of phony "support," Althouse.

Dave said...

Althouse must be quite powerful if she can "eliminat[e] Democratic candidates"!

So, Althouse, what did you do with Hillary????

As for supporting abortion rights and voting for a Republican--those are hardly mutually exclusive concepts.

Titus said...

I don't know what the hell that epilogue was above me by tc but you are right dave f Basquiat was ok. What I meant to say is Schnabel did two films: one ok and one great-Basquiat ok Before Night Falls-great.

The story of "Before Night Falls was so powerful. Not knowing squat about Cuban history before
watching the movie I read quite a bit about Cuba which is a fascinating story.

The imprisonment and torture of Cuban writers, artists, academics, homosexuals was incredibly sad. The way the book portrayed Cuba that before Castro it was much more of an open an tolerant society.
It will be incredibly interesting to see what becomes of Cuba after Castro dies. If it, which is a big if, becomes a democratic society I can see it becoming a major desination for American tourists and a thriving economy. It is one of the places I have most wanted to visit. Probably as a American we are unable to visit so there is the allure of wanting to go somewhere we aren't able to go.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

If this subject interests you I recommend the work of Denton Welch. His books In Youth is Pleasure and Voice Through a Cloud are unjustly negleted masterpieces of sensitive observation and beautiful prose.

From WIkipedia's entry on Welch:

Welch did not set out to be a writer. He originally studied art in London with the intention of becoming a painter. At the age of 20, he was hit by a car while cycling in Surrey and suffered a fractured spine. Although he was not paralyzed, he suffered severe pain and complications, including spinal tuberculosis that ultimately led to his early death.

His literary work, intense and introverted, includes insightful portraits of his friends, and minutely observed portraits of the English countryside during World War II. A close attention to aesthetics, be it in human behaviour, physical appearance, clothing, art, architecture, jewelry, or antiques, is also a recurring concern in his writings

Dave said...

Well, here's one picture of his two daughters, Lola and Stella. Not a great shot. But you get the picture.

Beldar said...

ajd wrote,

Sure you do, professor. That is why you: (1) voted for George W., (2)supported Alito and Roberts, and (3) keep eliminating Democratic candidates, while fawning all over Repulbicans who despise abortion rights.

Prof. A certainly can explain herself without help, and I have no idea if her and my own views match up at all.

But, speaking just as one other person who also "support[s] abortion rights but think[s] people should face up to "the consequences of their decisions":

If the totality of your views on abortion and abortion rights can be contained in a lightswitch, you're hopelessly simple-minded.

It's entirely possible, and self-consistent, to believe: (a) that Roe v. Wade was a horrible, unprincipled, and dangerous decision as a matter of constitutional law, and (b) that state legislatures and, perhaps, Congress, ought to have the right to legislate on abortion rights (as they do on all sorts of other matters of life and death) without being conclusively preempted by nine unelected judges on the Supreme Court, but (c) state legislatures, as a matter of public policy (not constitutional law), ought not ban abortion outright, and yet (d) some legal restrictions to permit something less than "instant universal abortion on demand" may be good ideas, while still (e) as a personal, moral choice, abortion is extraordinarily repugnant.

(That, by the way, is one internally,logically, and legally consistent application of the "safe, legal, and rare" prescription of that famous Republican fascist, Bill Clinton.)

Or is that just too damned nuanced for you, ajd? That sort of viewpoint requires you to actually understand the difference between constitutional law and public policy, and to understand the difference between an outright prohibition and something designed to exert less drastic social behavioral incentives/disincentives, and to understand the difference between law and morality. There's room for debate on every one of those levels. But only if you're willing to avoid binary world-views.

Unknown said...

Ann said: "I had no idea there was a film."

You need to read more.

Try this: