Film Festivals


By • Nov 15th, 2007 • Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Share This:


“The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” is the poetic title of the acclaimed, 1997 autobiography of a leading French fashion editor, Elle’s Jean-Dominique Bauby, as well as this film adaptation (Miramax) by the noted painter turned filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, which led off the Festival’s screenings for critics in mid-September.
‘Jean-Do’ (in the film, the piquant Mathieu Amalric of “Kings and Queens” and “Munich”) as he was known, had a devastating cerebral stroke, at 43, which left him a victim of “locked in syndrome,” able to communicate only by blinking the remaining, working muscle of his left eye-lid. (My partner quipped that Schnabel’s film might be aptly titled, “My Left Eyelid.”)
That is, in order to utter a single word, Jean-Do’s therapists had to verbally run through the French alphabet to gather every letter of every word for his blinks, a brutally tedious business that makes Bauby’s creation of an entire literary work something quite miraculous.
“The Diving Bell” nearly replicates Alejandro Amenabar’s 2004 “The Sea Inside,” which featured Javier Bardem, as the eminent-but-totally paralyzed-Spanish author, Ramon Sampedro, who wrote his way out of his 30-year physical straight jacket by, ultimately, obtaining euthanasia. “The Sea Inside” won the Best Foreign Language Oscar of 2004)
In Schnabel’s film, Bauby becomes reconciled to his fate long before expiring due to a clogged tracheal breathing tube.
Schnabel is nothing if not inventive in lolling the camera over to pan vistas approximate to Bauby’s ‘butterfly’ point of view or interpolating whimsical photos of the handsome young Brando in place of the less than dashing M. Amalric. Schnabel’s final image, reversing Antarctic glacier slides by running them backwards, is ironic, but it fails to work for me as persuasive reparation. Such global warming catastrophes can no more be repaired than the life of an ingenious stroke victim.
I appreciate the authenticity of New Yorker Schnabel’s working in French (from a translation of Ronald Harwood’s English screenplay) at the hospital where Bauby was treated and featuring the therapists who worked with him, even though Schnabel claims to dislike films set in hospitals, as I do.
Schnabel’s first choice of Johnny Depp (who played two screaming queens for Schnabel in his previous film, “Before Night Falls”) for Jean-Do would have been a more commercial one for Miramax, but Mr. Depp did better for Disney, Miramax’s parent company, by repeating his inspired pirate queen in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Two footnotes. The flashback scene of the pre-stroke Jean-Do shaving his invalided, crotchety, 92-year-old father (Max Von Sydow, age 77) is the best scene in the film for me. Every stroke of the safety razor is amplified on the soundtrack by boosting the scraping sound. The scene becomes surgical, anatomizing their father-son co-dependency and showing the vibrancy of Amalric possessed of all of his physical faculties. It is also a tribute by Schnabel to his own beloved father, who died at 92, while living in his son’s West Village home.
Schnabel had a flood of film offers following his marvelous “Before Night Falls,” (2000), which starred Javier Bardem as the fugitive gay Cuban poet, Renaldo Arenas. In the long interim since that film, Schnabel wrote a screenplay adaptation of the popular novel, “Perfume,” but fell out with the producer and got bounced from that production. He understandably loathes the 2006 film of “Perfume,” which he thinks truly stinks.
It strikes me that Schnabel’s three films, including his first, “Basquiat” (1996) are all biographies of tormented figures in the art worlds of three nations.
Schnabel claims that before signing on to direct “The Diving Bell (of death) and the Butterfly” (Bauby’s flitting mind and wandering eye), he turned down a slew of commercial projects including “8 Mile” and “American Gangster.” I don’t think Schnabel should have rejected all of those opportunities. Although he won the Best Director award at Cannes for “The Diving Bell,” he coveted the Palme d’Or, which went to the Romanian abortion drama, “4 Months, 3 weeks and 2 Days,” which was also shown at the New York Festival.


“Married Life” (Sony Pictures Classics) is as prosaic as its title. Writer-director Ira Sach’s third film is leaden and feels considerably longer than its 90-minute length, despite its excellent cast of Pierce Brosnan, Chris Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, and a new blonde yum-yum, Rachel McAdams.
The picture is a highly conventional sexual rondelet of infidelity, with husband Cooper attempting to poison his wife Clarkson in order to marry McAdams, possibly because divorce is unheard of in their bourgeois set. The year 1949 is conveyed by the style of the autos; the Pacific Northwest setting I only gleaned from the program notes.
When the author-director acknowledged, at the press conference, that he was a gay man, I subversively thought, “Is that why the film lacks the slightest hetero lubricity?” I tabled that too personal supposition, and realized that you can’t have homely Chris Cooper as the sexual fulcrum of such a lusty comedy when he is, of course, bound to be trumped by the handsome Brosnan. Moreover, you can’t play off a genre flick like “Sudden Fear,” as Sachs said he had, (in which Joan Crawford is fearful of her hunk husband, Jack Palance, as a potential poisoner), when “Marriage”’s lame script (from an obscure 1952 English novel) seems much more a Feydeau sex farce than a thriller.
Sach’s says his last two films have been “realistic,” (his previous, “40 Shades of Blue” – 2005, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), but, frenzied infidelity has, of course, its own reality. Comedy may simply not be Sachs’ bailiwick. Patricia Clarkson, however, is “a sunny, funny, honey” treasure of the American film, as this picture is not.


“I Just Didn’t Do It” is the not-guilty plea of a slender, mop-haired Japanese youth (Ryo Kase), falsely accused of groping a 15-year old schoolgirl on a jam-packed Tokyo commuter train.
This honest kid is told at the outset of this excessively long, 143-minute procedural, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay a small fine, or face protracted jail time and a judiciary that is less interested in his innocence than its near-perfect record of convictions.
The boy refuses to cop a plea and demands exoneration. (We see in the opening scene that the offending hand hiking up the girl’s skirt is much more powerfully veined and older than that of the slender, tapered hand of the young accused.)
This near-documentary of Tokyo’s penal and judicial system marks a notable change for writer-director Masayuki Suo from his delightful hit, “Shall We Dance,” (1996), but the poor lad’s ordeal and the ultimate, terrible wrong done him makes the audience suffer with him because of the film’s length and its’ successive repetitions.
The attempt by the youth’s defense to recreate the precise configuration of the train door’s overcrowding, for an exonerating video presentation to the court, struck me as both wonderful and absurd.
It is miraculous that the lad’s defense team could find the vanished woman who witnessed the incident on the train and came forward to protest the lad’s arrest, only to be dismissed by the police. That the judge refuses to accept her testimony, prior to convicting the wretched young man, is a heartbreaking injustice as great as the youth’s false arrest and imprisonment.
Poor boy. He should have paid the fine, but he “just didn’t do it.”


I felt obligated to see “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (IFC First Takes) because it was the buzz film of this year’s Cannes Festival and earned for its Romanian writer-director, Cristian Mungiu, the Festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.
I knew the title signified the length of term prior to an illicit, late abortion in Ceaucescu’s repressive Romania of 1987, and that it was shot, by Oleg Mutu, the cinematographer of “The Death of Mr. Lazauescu,” a great, but deeply depressing Romanian film of two Festivals ago, in gray-green dun color. So I knew the picture would not be pleasurable.
The Festival screening began at 10 a.m., an unfavorite hour for this late-nighter, in an as-yet uncooled Walter Reade Theatre. So my receptivity was not great. In the opening scene, as the young women dorm mates (four to a room) discussed obtaining black market Kent cigarettes with their male, dorm fence, prior to the lead, blonde Otilla’s (Anamaria Marinca) obtaining a clandestine hotel room to relieve her close friend, the dark Gabita’s (Laura Vasiliu) four-months-gone pregnancy, I knew I would simply have to endure the ordeal. Indeed, the film was just as wintry and oppressive as being in the, bleak, iron curtain country which Romania was in those days.
Abandoning the important birthday party of her boyfriend’s mother (shown us in such tedious, tightly-framed bourgeois, gemutlichkeit torpor you could plotz), she deserts her boyfriend’s family gathering to tend to her friend.
And then a miracle occurs, rather like the epiphanies of the Dardennes Brothers’ films, in which love is transcendent–transforming a seemingly immoral tale into a sublime morality. The comradeship and solidarity of the women, complicit in an act that could have sent them both to prison along with the abortionist, transcended the awful deed. (Mungiu, 39, whose third film this is, shows part of the bloody, aborted fetus’ umbilicus, enough to make us severely chastened.)
Mongiu told us he had deliberately eschewed quick cutting in favor of long takes, as well as use of any sophisticated equipment like a Steadicam. He wanted the film to look bare and ultra-spare.
Anamaria Marinco is a truly marvelous actress, but Mungiu, who flew her in from London, (where she made a TV series, “Sex Traffic” which won her a BAFTA Award in 2005) disliked her audition, as he had all the women her age he had seen, and only came to admire Marinco as she became the part of Otiilla on film. Evidently, she speaks perfect English in order to appear on the British telly, as did the former English major, writer-director-producer, Mungiu, at his Festival press conference.

Continue to page: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Share This Article: Digg it | | Google | StumbleUpon | Technorati

Leave a Comment

(Comments are moderated and will be approved at FIR's discretion, please allow time to be displayed)