The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

42-year old Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) lives a life of wealth and excess, flitting between his three young children, a successful career as editor of Elle magazine and the bevy of beauties ready to satisfy his every need. But one day, on a drive with his eldest son, Jean-Do suffers a stroke and becomes a victim of ‘Locked-In Syndrome’, an extremely rare condition leaving him fully conscious but completely paralysed, except for blinking his left eyelid.
Beginning with the blurry, distorted hospital room swimming into focus, much of the film is shot from Bauby’s perspective, including the harrowing experience of having his right eyelid sewn up, seen from the inside. Amalric’s narration is wonderful, encapsulating the frustration of a man used to extreme independence, who now cannot wash, communicate or even move without another’s assistance, and praise must also be given to the supporting cast of implausibly attractive therapists and assistants tasked with acting to a camera for a lot of the film, and Max Von Sydow as Bauby’s elderly, apartment-bound father.
A story of triumph over intense adversary that does well not to dwell on the depressing, director Julian Schnabel amazingly mines humourous streaks – the agony of an immovable fly on the nose – whilst also celebrating the wonders of perseverance, memory and imagination.
Choose film 8/10

La Vie en Rose

Marion Cotillard gives the role of her life in this biopic of French singer Edith Piaf, depicting her tragic existence from growing up in a brothel with her grandmother after her parents abandon her, through being discovered by Gerard Depardieu’s club owner singing on the streets, up until her death of liver cancer aged 47. Her meteoric rise to fame – she is widely regarded as France’s most popular singer – was filled with tragedy and setbacks, from going blind for several months at a young age to her partner dying in a plane crash when she demands him to fly out and see her. The plot is largely confusing, flitting backwards and forwards in time and with many people entering, exiting and re-entering her life, yet throughout the set design, costumes, make-up and performances are excellent, as of course is the music. Cotillard was rightly thrown onto the Hollywood A-list after this role, being snapped up by the likes of Chris Nolan, Michael Mann and Woody Allen, and the cinematography – particularly one extended shot around a multi-room set in her villa – is also spectacular. Some elements – Piaf’s child, for instance – seem hastily tacked on, but for the most part this is a riveting story about a first-rate musician.
Choose film 7/10