I was not familiar with this true story that took place over 10 years ago in Europe, but this film made me want to learn more about this fascinating, courageous, and touching period in one man’s life.
Famous Parisian journalist Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric) wakes up in a seaside hospital following a stroke and he answers questions asked of him by his physicians. However, he becomes quite angry that while he speaks to them clearly and directly, the doctors seem to have the inclination that he cannot respond at all.
The middle aged man has been told that his stroke has resulted in him being stricken with Locked-In Syndrome, a rare disease in which the mental and cognitive faculties are intact, but the body remains in a vegetative state. In addition, he cannot speak.
During the film we learn about Bauby’s life. He was the editor of Europe’s best known magazine, Elle; he had three children with his ex: the beautiful Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner); a calm, yet loving relationship with his elderly father (Max von Sydow); and a girlfriend he can’t stop pining away for. While he is quite distraught with his twist of fate, his mind is as sharp as ever. That’s what everyone is counting on.
The speech therapist at the hospital (Marie-Josee Croze) is determined to not to give up on him or allow him to give up on himself. Since he is able to blink in order to communicate, she devises a special system using the French alphabet. Given in the order by frequency of use, the alphabet is read and Bauby blinks when the letter he wishes to use is spoken, thus forming words.
As the voiceover narration continues, and we learn more and more about the man he was (and still is in mind) through flashbacks, a great curve ball gets thrown at us. Bauby previously secured a publishing contract to write a book. While the publishing house figures that’s that, he gives them the surprise of a lifetime: he still wants to write it. With the help of a very patient assistant (Anne Consigny) taking down his dictation letter by letter, blink by blink, he wrote and later published a memoir about his life now forever changed.
I haven’t been this moved by a picture in many, many years. I was absolutely amazed with one man’s incredible tenacity to carry on and show that while he’s not the same person physically, the spirit is still alive. This film was quiet, subtle, and positively poignant. I loved, loved, loved it! Clear a spot in your schedule, and make an effort to see this film! You’ll be happy that you did!
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