Published Dec 21, 2007Sympathy from outsiders can take strange forms. Here, notably able-bodied artist Julian Schnabel takes on a phenomenon he cant possibly know from the inside: "locked-in syndrome, the near-total immobility that Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby endured when he suffered a stroke and found himself left with only one eyelid as a means communication.
Baubys autobiography serves as the basis for the movie, in which Schnabel tries in various formalist ways to suggest the imprisonment of the syndrome: the camera is often immobile as people walk in and out of his point of view, the focus shifts to suggest inadequate peripheral vision and voiceovers express Baubys powerlessness as people assume to speak for, or in sympathy with, someone whose plight they cant possibly comprehend.
Its a heroic task, and it sometimes comes off, but the director takes these structural representations of overwhelming disability and then tacks on poetry that doesnt belong. Its not that you couldnt apply poetry, but the stuff on offer here is sometimes not credible and just as often not relevant, imposing the director on the material in ways where he should plain and simply back off. As well, it doesnt help that every woman in Baubys life stands in the wings looking hot though Bauby proves to be a philanderer, it doesnt jack up the films credibility to reduce the female characters so completely.
Kings and Queen live-wire Matheiu Almaric is as good as can be expected in a confining role, and one cant say that there isnt a lot of craft and sympathy in Schnabels attempt to translate his subjects POV to filmic terms. But theres something presumptive about his subject positioning that rubs the wrong way, and I imagine this film will be debated by disability activists for some time to come. (Alliance Atlantis)