The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Movie •• Picture •••• Sound •••• Extras ••

Pretty people and privilege were the raw ingredients for some of the best European films of 50 years ago. And it was the filmmakers' continual dance with their subjects - fascinated but wary - that made those movies so compelling. Lose the puckish irony, and the result can't be anything but superficial. And thus we come to The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Artist/director Julian Schnabel's movie is just too damn beautiful and clean to express the suffering of its real-life main character, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who after a stroke is left almost completely paralyzed. The few, limited emotions The Diving Bell does have sit on its surface, trapped in amber. It's not hard to see why the film appealed to that segment of the art-house crowd (and the Academy) that prefers to be diverted rather than engaged. But that's all it ultimately is: a diversion.

The pristine video transfer brings out the movie's china-doll sheen, and the DVD's vibrant sound only helps to underscore how little The Diving Bell has to say. There are two perfunctory making-of documentaries, a Charlie Rose interview with Schnabel, and the director's fitful, laconic commentary. Conspicuously absent from the extras are any glimpses into the actual life of Bauby.