The Diving Bell, the Butterfly and the Oscar

Julian Schnabel's new film exceeds the blissful buzz that has everyone wanting to see the The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as soon as it is released. It has already won the director's prize for him at Cannes, so it's not as if the New York Film Festival is the only one to anoint: nevertheless, there is some concern about it being in French, and about its difficult subject matter for the US audience. I say we are up to the task.

I always have wanted to be mean-spirited about Julian Schnabel's work and I am never able! I'm insanely jealous! He has gone from the flavor of the year painter-with-plates much in vogue in the eighties (and then derided for having supposedly single-handedly inflated the art market--TAME compared to what's going on now). Then the phoenix-type of Brooklyn-Texas guy that he is, trailing beautiful ex-wives, wives, assorted children, design projects and the like, he emerges as one of our really fine American auteurs and has hit the trifecta (with Basquiat and Before Night Falls) of perfect filmmaking Not fair!!!!

How to describe this movie without making you think it's about a man who suddenly becomes a paraplegic who can only blink one eye yet manages to write a book? Though that short description sounds like a weepy movie of the week, it's everything but. It's about life, seizing whatever tools we have at hand, grasping onto people who are willing to help us without resenting them, loving our families, our extended families, yet making room for people outside of the orbit without alienating everyone else--almost an impossible task when we're whole, never mind when we are severed from the grace and resilience that are our bodies, however imperfect.

I read this book by Jean-Dominique Beauby when it first came out in France---and though it was a sensation even then, it did not come close to making me feel the way the film did--wounded, terrified, dead and then totally, completely alive. Schnabel did a long, rambling Q and A after the first screening of the film, and it's clear he had a vision about making this work so that even his veteran collaborators stood back and let him have at it. Though the first draft of the script was in English, he went back to the original French and of course, it was the only thing to keep it real, to imbue it with the je ne sais quoi of the French language, still, to me, the most sensuous and specific tongue ever devised. It works brilliantly on screen and in the end, I was sorry I had to occasionally blink and miss even one frame of its beauty and sadness and incredible life-affirming tenderness.

Here's the thing: Take a chance. Take a walk on the wild side. Throw caution to the wind. Gather ye roses while ye may and better yet, give them to someone you love. If this film does nothing else, it makes you feel the full horror of the crazy, randomness of everything and the fact that it could all evaporate in a nanosecond.

Bravo to all concerned, and merci milles fois Julian.