2007 / Best Director

Film #536: The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007)

On compiling this list of films nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture it was interesting to note how many of them were not in the English language. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, the Academy rarely gives Best Picture nods to films in other languages however the directing branch of the association seems to do things a little differently. The next few posts will look at five different foreign films that all received a Best Director nomination and decide whether or not they deserved to be featured in that year’s Best Picture category too.

First up is The Diving Bell and The Butterfly which tells the extraordinary story of how former Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby managed to write an entire book despite losing the use of everything bar his left eyelid. The story of how The Diving Bell and The Butterfly came to the screen was an interesting one with Paramount originally having the rights to the film and casting Johnny Depp as Bauby. However eventually Paramount dropped the movie, Depp left the project with the only element left of this original project being director Julian Schnabel. Despite it initially being conceived as an English-language film with an English script from Ronald Harwood, the film eventually reverted back to the French language used in Bauby’s original book. I did actually feel that the film transcended language barriers and it did feel like one of the most English foreign language films I’d ever seen. One thing I’m glad of is the fact that Depp departed the project as I felt he would’ve overplayed the part something that lead actor Mathieu Amalric never does once. Instead Almeric makes Bauby absolutely believable and you really feel for him as he gradually realises that he can’t voice the thoughts we hear inside his head.

It’s clear to me why the directing branch of The Academy decided to award Schnabel with a nomination for The Diving Bell and The Butterfly as the way the film looks is completely different from any of the other films released that year. The entire first third of the film is shot from Bauby’s point-of-view meaning that Janusz Kamiński’s camera basically acts as our protagonist’s left eyeball. This gives the film a unique look which is especially noticeable when characters move outside of Bauby’s eye line as we the audience are unable to see them on screen. As the film goes on we learn of the magnificent way that Bauby was able to communicate through the use of his eyeball and a specially designed alphabet made up by his speech therapist. The film then begins to open up as we flash back to some of Bauby’s most cherished memories as well as seeing him bond with his children and the woman who he’s dictating the book to. I did feel that The Diving Bell and The Butterfly at times felt like a very experimental film but one which melded together an interesting premise with a unique vision. Oscar agreed for the most part as well giving nods not only to Schnabel but also to Harwood, Kamiński and editor Juliette Welfling. That does beg the question why didn’t The Diving Bell and The Butterfly make it to that year’s final five Best Picture list?

The only answer I really have is that 2007 had one of the better Best Picture line-ups with all five films deserving of their place in the category. In fact the only director of a Best Picture nominee not to be nominated for his work on a film was Atonement’s Joe Wright, which I think is a shame as that film was perfectly directed. If The Diving Bell had to replace one of the five Best Picture nominees then for me it would be Michael Clayton as it would possibly the least remarkable candidate. It’s even more annoying that due to the fact that the film’s production company was American, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly wasn’t eligible for the Foreign Language award which I feel it could’ve easily won. In a way it’s a shame that the film didn’t receive a nod in the Best Picture category but then again it was incredibly well represented at the 2007 Oscars especially considering that it wasn’t in the English language. But I just think that 2007 was such a strong year that The Diving Bell and The Butterfly got lost slightly lost in the shuffle and that’s the reason why it didn’t get nominated for 2007’s top prize.




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