'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' fails to connect

by Chris Honore'

Movies represent the great storytelling venue of our time. For millennia tribes have sat around campfires in the dark of night and thrilled to a fine, compelling story.

It is fair to expect that with each film that there will be something embedded in the narrative that will involve us, and will resonate with our shared, human experience. No matter if the movie is a romantic comedy, a farce, a thriller, or a serious drama.

So, when a film misses, it's always a challenge to sort out why. "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," for all its potential power, fails to connect.

The set up in brief: Jean Dominique Bauby (Matheiu Amaric), 43-years-old, a successful editor of the chic magazine, Elle, and a bon vivant, has recently left his wife and three children and moved in with his mistress. While paying a visit to his children, and driving along a French country road, he is struck down by a massive stroke which leaves him paralyzed from head to foot. What is not impaired is his mind &

he is aware of all that his occurring around him; he simply can't speak or move, with the exception of his left eye, which he can blink (his right eye is occluded).

When he regains consciousness, after a coma of three weeks, he discovers that his period of incarceration has begun. He peers out at a world that he can no longer engage. He is trapped, and you can almost hear the heavy iron door of his jail &

his own body &

close shut with a finality that is chilling. Of course, the doctors insist there is hope, physical evidence to the contrary.

All of the film is told from Bauby's point of view, and at first the camera looks out at an unfocused world. Images are distorted, conversations by doctors and physical therapists swirl around him. Gradually he begins to understand the depth and breadth of his situation and using voice over, we hear his occasional commentary, filled with anger and frustration and despair. As well, flashbacks are inserted showing Bauby as he was just weeks prior to his stroke, spending time with his children, his mistress and with his 92-year-old father.

Though the internal monologue is the audience's only concrete connection with Bauby, far too little is made of it in the film. It's a regrettable decision. The same could be said of the backstory segments. To build an emotional bridge between this man, now inert, his mouth twisted, only one eye open to the world, a great deal more is needed if the audience is to emotionally invest in his tragic force majeure.

It is precisely in the construction of that essential synapse that "Diving Bell" falls short. While the film is based on Bauby's memoir ("Le Scaphandre et le Papillon") &

he wrote every excruciating word by blinking yes and no, letter by letter &

the essence of his story is told with a curious detachment that is regrettable. Sympathy is not enough if the film is going to involve the audience in his staggering loss.

The subtext of the film is the ruthlessness of arbitrary and unanticipated consequences. We are all haunted by the reality that life can be irrevocably altered in a heartbeat, and that the arc of our existence will have only one outcome. It's a cliche' to say that life is tentative, a mere thread, and all too short. But that sentence possesses an undeniable truth and hence we remind ourselves continually to live fully, intensely. But inevitably our days fall victim to our amnesia, and we are lulled by an abiding complacency compounded by the belief that time stretches ever before us while we know, in the dead of night, that it doesn't.

Of course, as we see in "Diving Bell," that insight takes on a profound meaning when Bauby is stripped of life's full gift. With that we can empathize; however, we need more from this film. Having said all of the above, "Diving Bell" was nominated for four Oscars: editing, directing, cinematography and best adapted screenplay.

"Fool's Gold"

Call "Fool's Gold" a vanity film. Kate Hudson as Tess and Matthew McConaughy as Finn, are wonderfully sun-kissed, like burnished gold bars, and both are given ample time to parade across the screen in various stages of undress, framed by the deeply green Bahamian Islands and all the charm that Key West, Florida, can muster.

They're beautiful people &

diving for gold off of reefs, standing on docks looking down into ever so blue and pristine waters, pouring through ancient tomes in the bowels of a church &

and make a lovely pair. That doesn't mean, however, that they have chemistry. Surprisingly, there is little heat generated between them. But they are, in the aggregate, fun to watch as they bicker and argue and fight while winking at the audience, as if to say, "You know we're crazy about each other, so be patient, we'll get there."

The story is all over the place, and can never seem to make up its mind where it wants to go. But no matter. The narrative is not what this movie is about. It's simply a venue for the golden couple who are in search of gold, lost in the 18th century, somewhere in a hidden cay, near a reef. Naturally there are bad guys who want the sunken treasure as well, and it gets dicey, but only mildly dicey, and the outcome is a foregone conclusion. Meanwhile, Donald Sutherland is reaching for an English accent portraying a tycoon who is estranged from his intellectually challenged daughter played by Alexis Dziena.

As an aside, this attractive duo banked the coals in "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days," and it's not surprising to see them in a sequel, of sorts (romantic-adventure-comedy). Hudson, actually, is the better actor, but she has chosen romantic comedies that are far from challenging but undoubtedly successful. The camera loves her. McConaughy will continue to have a long run as the thirty-something guy until he is no longer the thirty-something guy. For now he is perfectly cast as the boyfriend, the slacker husband, the guy who fails to launch and his parents hire a young lass to assist him to make the break. A teenager, only taller.

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