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SIGNATURE FILM MOMENT

In 'The Diving Bell,' a Blink Says It All

Moving inside his mind: Mathieu Amalric and Anne Cosigny in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
Moving inside his mind: Mathieu Amalric and Anne Cosigny in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." (By Etienne George -- Miramax Films)

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

The restless camera movement in "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Kingdom" is intended to evoke a you-are-there immediacy. Instead, it forces us to reexperience some of those nausea-inducing ferry crossings of the past. Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" employs something much subtler -- but infinitely more effective -- to immerse us in its captivating story. It employs a series of simple screen "wipes" as a recurring motif. This visual effect, in which the screen seems to pull down its own Venetian blind, perfectly conveys the blinking of its central character, fashion editor Jean-Dominique Bauby. There's a reason for this stylistic device, beyond mere artiness. Bauby, after experiencing a stroke, has been rendered paralyzed except for one eyelid. As he struggles to communicate with the world in a slow, agonizing manner -- the nurse has to recite the entire alphabet until Bauby blinks for the letter he wants -- we feel as though we are directly inside Bauby's mind, jostling with his own mental synapses and emotional impulses. And we are drawn deeper into his intimidating dilemma, and the movie.

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