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Конкурс на звание лучшего переводчика - 2020

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High Flier

by David Denby

Most filmmakers regard subjects like illness and despair as dangerous traps – mawkish sentimentality lying on one side of the high road of art, pleasureless suffering on the other – but the challenge of an impossible subject can bring out the best in a director, as is the case in Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.” 

The Schnabel movie is about an unlucky man – Jean-Dominique Bauby, the real-life editor of French Elle, who, in 1995, at the age of forty-three, suffered a massive stroke. Lying speechless and outraged in a hospital near Calais, a victim of “locked-in syndrome,” Bauby was restored to full mental clarity but could move nothing but his left eye. Yet Schnabel’s movie, based on the calm and exquisite little book that Bauby wrote in the hospital, is a gloriously unlocked experience, with some of the freest and most creative uses of the camera and some of the most daring, cruel, and heartbreaking emotional explorations that have appeared in recent movies.

At first, we see only what Bauby sees – a blur of faces floating into view in fearsome closeup, like deep-sea monsters. Consciousness arrives: the blurs solidify into clear images of doctors and nurses and the surprisingly beautiful décor of Bauby’s cell – a turquoise-colored hospital room, with a curtain flapping in the breeze. Bauby’s Cyclopean gaze swings wildly from one place to another, and visitors, embarrassed and grief-stricken, pass in and out of his vision, which operates as a kind of microscope peering into the soul of whoever comes into its view. The doctors offer diagnoses and reassurances; Bauby is caressed, shoved, lifted, held, deposited, and washed with hands both rough and gentle, and, through all this, we hear his thoughts on the soundtrack – baffled and angry at first, then bitter (he faintly enjoys the black comedy of his situation), and, finally, soulful and eloquent. 

Bauby has been reduced to a thing, an object – the ultimate patient – but the emotional and animal life in him hasn’t died, and for that we are profoundly grateful. We needn’t merely feel sorry for this man – unlike his caretakers and his guests, we know what’s going on in his head. Schnabel neither avoids nor softens the hospital-room procedures, yet slowly the movie opens up. 

The picture moves steadily ahead on two tracks: we see the stages of Bauby’s treatment, including the tortuous but productive way he learns to write; and the tumult and ecstasy of his inner life. When Bauby, liberated from terror, says, “I can imagine anything,” Schnabel, in a burst of exhilaration, takes us on a speed journey through Bauby’s visions and hopes and fantasies. Later, as Bauby begins to write his book, memories of driving with his girlfriend, her hair blowing in the wind in an open landscape, come flooding back. In the present, he’s visited by his small children, who scamper around the paralyzed body on an empty beach.

 “The Diving Bell” surges toward redemption – a man fully realizing his humanity only when his mobility has been taken away. The birth of Bauby’s soul feels like nothing less than the rebirth of the cinema.


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