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Wendy R. Williams Talks With Director Julian Schnabel, Screenwriter Ronald Harwood, and Actors Mathieu Amalric and Marie-Josée Croze of
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Press Roundtable
November 13, 2007
The Regency Hotel


Julian Schnabel’s new film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly opened on November 30, 2007. It is a stunning film and will certainly be an Oscar contender. I saw the film and then attended the press roundtable. Here is a copy of my review (be sure to scroll down for the interviews with Schnabel, Harwood, Amalric and Croze).

Julian Schnabel's
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
French with English Subtitles
Opens November 30, 2007

Starring: Mathieu Amalric (Jean-Dominique Bauby); Emmanuelle Seigner (Céline Desmoulins); Marie-Josée Croze (Henriette Durand); Anne Consigny (Claude); and Olatz Lopez Garmendia (Marie Lopez).

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Julian Schnabel (Basquait, Before Night Falls) has made a gorgeous, sensual feast of a film about the sad story of Jean Dominique Bauby, the editor of Elle France, who at the young age of forty-three suffered a stroke that left him in "locked-in" condition. Unable to move any part of his body except his left eye, Bauby (played by Mathieu Amalric), wrote a book (also titled The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) about his experience.

Working from a script by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist, Love in the Time of Cholera, Oliver Twist) the first half of the film is told through the camera-eye of Bauby's left eye. As the story opens, we as Bauby's eye, awake to see kindly worried people hovering over our bed telling us that we have had a stroke and now that we are awake we should be just fine. Then one of the doctors asks Bauby to say his name, he does and no one hears him except us, the film audience.

Bauby then narrates his own movie, telling us the story of his old and new life. Bauby's affliction has not made him into a saint. He is instead the same sardonic hedonist that he was before the accident.

The story follows Bauby's work with his gorgeous therapists, Henriette (played by Marie-Josée Croze) and Marie (Schnabel's wife Olatz Lopez Garmendia). Henriette devises a method by which Bauby can communicate with the world - a chart with the letters of the French alphabet arranged in most-used order. She painstakingly goes through the alphabet and Bauby blinks when she reaches a letter that he wishes to use. Bauby signals that he would like to write the book that he had contracted to write before the accident and the therapist make arrangements with his publisher to have yet another beautiful woman take dictation, Claude (played by Marie Anne Consigny).

This film is never maudlin; it is beautifully shot by Janusz Kaminski, also Steven Spielberg's cinematographer. We leave the viewpoint of Bauby's eye and see the world around him. The hospital room is a green marvel and the hospital itself is located by the sea; the entire setting is lovely. And to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, oh the things Bauby saw. Bauby receives visitors, the gorgeous mother of his three children, Celine (played by Emmanuelle Seigner). We see them on the beach with Celine's skirt being lifted by the wind. His equally gorgeous children visit and play in the sand. And Bauby's beautiful view of the world is not restricted to his present "diving bell." We follow the butterfly of his imagination as he remembers his past and takes flights of fancy into the future. And we follow him as he drives former girlfriend to Lourdes, her hair beautifully blowing in the wind. Bauby was a lustful man and the film is permeated with Bauby's (and Schnabel's) lust for life.

Bell is one of the best films I have seen this year and that is quite a complement with films like Gone Baby Gone and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead for competition. Schnabel won the prize for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for Bell and this film will surely be an Oscar contender for Schnabel, Harwood, Kiminski and the talented (and gorgeous) cast.

Julian Schnabel Directing The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Photo Courtesy of Miramax Films

The Interview with Julian Schnabel

Question about film making:

Julian Schnabel: It can be anything. [It is like] in a church you can have a sermon or a garage sale. [Regarding Diving Bell] I wanted us to be inside his body. We used the camera to show that not everything is in focus. The colors were very important. I decided what color the room should be - the turquoise walls and uniforms, the yellow curtains. I wanted it to look like you were in a pool.
I don’t rehearse with actors. I sat with them beforehand and worked on the translation with each one. I shot the rehearsal. Lot of the takes you see are the first takes.

I like to work without a net. It is a mistake to move away from someone’s first response. I loved working with the actors. I never had to wait for an actor

I really love editing.

It was marvelous to be able to shoot everything in the hospital. Everyone who worked at the hospital wanted to be in the film, but my preference was for those who actually knew Jean Do.

Question about how he got the shot of Mathieu in the diving suit:

Julian Schnabel: We shot it in the sea and it was dangerous. I could not get into that suit.

Question about the choice of the music for the film’s soundtrack:

Julian Schnabel: I always knew what it would be. I knew I would like to use the U2 song, The 400 Blows, the Dirtbombs' cover of "Chains of Love,"… I loved the music in the film.

There is really not that much to say about the film. The movie speaks for itself.


Ronald Harwood
Photo Credit Wendy R. Williams

The Interview with Ronald Harwood

Question about whether he wrote the script in French:

Ronald Harwood: No, I speak French, but it is restaurant French.

Question about how the film got started:

Ronald Harwood: Universal green-lighted it as an English language film for Johnny Depp but then Depp could not do it because of that pirate thing (Pirates of the Caribbean). Then Pathé said they would do it but in English and French. But it was eventually translated and done in French.

Question about how it felt to win the Oscar for The Pianist (directed by Roman Polanski).

Ronald Harwood: Lovely. It is better to win than not to win.

Question about which book was harder to adapt, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly or Love in the Time of Cholera (also written by Harwood).

Ronald Harwood: It was very difficult to figure out how to write The Diving Bell. I was just about to quit, which meant I would have to give the money back, when it came to me that he (Bauby) should be the camera. It totally freed me to write the script.

Question about how much research he did:

Ronald Harwood: Very little. I met the mother of his children who introduced him to the speech pathologist who invented the alphabet [that Bauby used].

Question about Harwood’s career:

Ronald Harwood: I started out as a dresser for a Shakespearean actor. I had just been married and my father-in-law gave me a typewriter for my birthday. In three weeks I wrote a novel. [For me] writing is like an actor improvising. It is where my voice comes from. One time a psychologist wanted to interview me about my creative process. But I was scared that if I looked too closely, I will jinx it. How can you assure yourself that is you write something that someone will want to read it? You can’t.

I have never had writer’s block. I am too arrogant.

When I was working on The Dresser on Broadway when I got my first computer; it had a dot matrix printer.

[Harwood’s friend] Harold Pinter was a bad actor [Harwood was laughing] but a great writer. He saw my computer and I showed him how I could delete and he said, “When I want to delete something, I cross it out.” Harold Pinter still can’t use a computer.

Question about whether he is enraged about the state of the world:

Ronald Harwood: No, I am in despair about the world. Things never change. I was born in the 30’s and lived through World War II and the Holocaust. Is now worse or not? Civilization is no defense against barbarism. The Germans were the most civilized people in Europe.

Question about whether Harwood is interested in popular culture:

Ronald Harwood: No, I’m not interested in popular culture. I am interested in something that lasts so I can perhaps deal with a problem that can’t be solved.

The films that I am attracted to deal with triumph over adversity.

I discover people and events by writing.

Graham Green always said, “Stop when it is going well.” Graham Green used to dream in chapters.

I’m a great rewriter.

Question about what it was like to work with Julian.

Ronald Harwood: I was not involved with him. When I worked with Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Oliver Twist), we worked together for five weeks, told drank coffee, told jokes. But with Diving, once I found the point of view and wrote the script, the rest was up to Julian. I wrote the script like a washing line, it was a linear story. Also, when writing the script, I had to demonstrate the attractiveness of the women. They were all beautiful, by chance.

Question about the WGA Strike.

Ronald Harwood: I am on strike right now. On my way in from the airport, I had my driver go by the strikers and honk his horn in support.

Marie-Josée Croze in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Photo Courtesy of Miramax Films

Mathieu Amalric in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Photo Courtesy of Miramax Films


The Interview with Mathieu Amalric (Jean-Dominique Bauby) and Marie-Josée Croze (Henriette Durand)

Question to Mathieu about how he was cast in the film:

Mathieu Amalric: I was in the (Steven Spielberg’s film) Munich and the producer of Munich (Kathleen Kennedy) also produced Diving Bell and she liked me. Kathleen gave me the script to read.

[Later] Marie-Josée and I flew to New York to work with Julian. We thought we would be staying in Manhattan but the driver took us out to Montauk where we spent days working translating the script.

This was a hard film for the other actors because they had to act to a camera lens. I was in another room, acting to a monitor.

Marie-Josée Croze: I met the real person that I played. We were actually shooting in the hospital. Being in a hospital is an extraordinary accident of life. The hospital was by the sea and we could go outside. We shot straight from the script. Every time I heard “actors” it was my shot. There was no rehearsal. We read the script and worked on it when we translated it [in Montauk].
Mathieu Amalric: The cameraman became an actor in the film. He moved his fingers to signal the blinks (of Bauby's eye).

Question to Mathieu about how he found his sense of humor in the film:

Mathieu Amalric: I have one.

You don’t become a saint just because you have a stroke.

Question to the actors about what makes them choose a script:

Mathieu Amalric: The world of the director.

Marie-Josée Croze: What I look for the collaboration with other artists. Our job is all about the exchange of energy. Writing is more lonely.

Question about French public support for film:

Mathieu Amalric: There is public money for movies which helps create diversity so that no only mainstream films are produced. Sean Penn’s new film Into the Wild is only playing in two theaters in New York. When it opens in France, it will be everywhere.



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