The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel, 2007). People often say a particular book is “unfilmable”. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly would seem to fall into that category. It’s a memoir written by a man who was paralyzed over his entire body except for his left eye. It is safe to say that there is nothing cinematic about two hours of a blinking eye. Schnabel pulls it off using a variety of methods, most importantly, showing much of the action from the perspective of that one eye. While Mathieu Amalric’s performance as Jean-Do Bauby is necessarily minimal, the various people who help him offer plum roles for a series of fine actors (including Emmanuelle Seigner, Anne Consigny, and Marie-Josée Croze), regularly seen in close-up as they get as near to Bauby as they can. Between these scenes, a running inner dialogue from Bauby, and the occasional move outside of the hospital room, Schnabel manages to give us a sense of what Bauby’s life might have been like. And Schnabel also manages to make a movie that isn’t depressing, but also refrains from cheap pulls at our emotions. #173 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top movies of the 21st century. 8/10. For another film by Schnabel, try Before Night Falls. A good choice for a movie with Mathieu Amalric and Anne Consigny is A Christmas Tale.
East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955). It’s from a novel by John Steinbeck, it’s directed by Elia Kazan, and the cast includes Julie Harris and, in an Oscar-winning performance, Jo Van Fleet (not to mention Raymond Massey and Burl Ives). But what really matters is that it stars James Dean. You can’t keep your eyes off of him, and his performance dominates every scene in which he appears. The story retells Cain and Abel to some extent, but it doesn’t fit in an exact manner, because Dean/Cain/Cal is fawned over so that we understand his miseries in a much deeper way than we do any of the other characters. It becomes a movie about a misunderstood youth, as if Dean’s subsequent role as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause was dropped into Salinas in 1917. It’s quite a feat, and it’s clear that Kazan loves Dean, that the camera loves Dean, that the audience loves Dean. But Jim Stark doesn’t really belong in 1917 America, so the film must have seemed very contemporary to audiences in the mid-50s, even as now, with historical perspective, we feel the dislocation between Stark and Steinbeck. #712 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 movies of all time. 8/10. By all means, watch this in tandem with Rebel Without a Cause. And for two other Kazan films from the 50s, try A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, both of which star Dean’s predecessor, Marlon Brando.
Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006). Johnnie To is reliable. He makes above-average Hong Kong movies, never bad, never great, but usually enjoyable. Exiled has a little of everything: homages to spaghetti westerns and The Wild Bunch, classic HK triad action and goofy humor, even an emotional performance by Josie Ho (women aren’t always given much to do in these movies). To leaves plenty of time for character development, and if the characters don’t get much deeper than they are when we meet them, at least it’s a nice attempt. And the final shootout is great. 7/10. My favorite movie from To is Vengeance, which has a great performance from Johnny Hallyday.
Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh, 2012). 5/10.
American Hustle (David O. Russell, 2013). 8/10.