Volume 77 / Number 28 - December 12 - 18, 2007
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Koch on Film

“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” (+)
This is a wonderful movie by Julian Schnabel. The film is based on a book of the same title written by a French magazine editor, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who suffered a massive stroke in his early

After the stroke, Jean-Do (Mathieu Amalric), as he is referred to in the movie, is totally paralyzed except for the ability to blink his eyes. He is able to hear but cannot speak. In the hospital, two nurses are assigned to assist him in his rehab. Marie (Olatz Lopez Garmendia, Schnabel’s wife) is his speech therapist, and Henriette (Marie-Josee Croze), encourages him to communicate by blinking once with his left eye if the answer is no and twice if the answer is yes. She recites the letters of the alphabet, and when she reaches the letter he wants to use to form a word, she stops and then begins again. Eventually he uses this means of communication to dictate his memoir to another woman, Claude (Anne Consigny). A phone is installed in his room so that friends and family members can call and speak with him. By blinking his eye, those in the room can give his response to the caller.

At times I wept for Jean-Do but never uncontrollably, because he always seemed to be in control. He is smart and was very witty in sharing his thoughts with the viewers.

Jean-Do is not married. He and his significant other, Celine (Emmanuelle Seigner), have three adorable children. There is also a mistress who calls him on the phone at the hospital. Remember when President Mitterrand was buried?  His wife, mistress, and out-of-wedlock daughter were all in attendance and stood shoulder to shoulder at the cemetery, as it should be. 

The film contains several flashbacks. One depicts Jean-Do’s stroke as it occurred, and another poignant scene shows him before the stroke, shaving his father, Laurent, portrayed by Max von Sydow who is 92 and himself an invalid. The unspoken love between father and son is evident. 

I was particularly affected by the love and strength of Jean-Do and the nurses in the rehab program, because in 1987 I suffered a stroke. One doctor described my stroke to the press as “trivial.” I interjected and said, “Trivial to you, not to me.” I was lucky that my stroke took place in a part of the brain that does not deal with motor activity. The doctor said they don’t know what that part of the brain did. While I had several occasions of paralysis during the first 24 hours, I ultimately had no permanent paralysis. 

The title of film is discussed during the movie. Rather than my revealing its meaning to you, I’d suggest that you see this film and find out for yourself. (In French with English subtitles.)

“I’m Not There” (-)
Many people, especially those of my generation, lived for the poetry of Bob Dylan’s songs especially during the Vietnam War. I was never a big fan of his voice, preferring that of his then girlfriend, Joan Baez, but I eagerly went to see this film depicting the many facets of his life. What a disappointment.

The director, Todd Haynes, depicts Dylan’s persona by using various actors. They include Robbie (Heath Ledger), Jude (Cate Blanchett), Arthur (Ben Whishaw), Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin), Jack (Christian Bale), and Billy (Richard Gere). The most interesting persona, because of gender, was provided by Cate Blanchett, and the best performer was that of Marcus Carl Franklin, a black youth about 14 years old, who has the role of a self-taught musician. The least relevant depiction of Dylan’s persona was Richard Gere in a Billy the Kid segment who looked like Walt Whitman. What the old man on horseback had to do with Dylan was beyond me.   

The movie contains a whiff of anti-Semitism conveyed when a fictional British reporter announces that Dylan can’t be the everyman character creating the poetic writings used in songs about the system that controls our daily lives, because the Dylan character’s name is Jacob Edelstein. In fact, Dylan who was Jewish, was born Robert Allen Zimmerman. Would Einstein be considered less today had he changed his name because of societal pressures?

I saw the 1967 documentary, “Don’t Look Back,” about Dylan’s 1965 concert tour in England. It was natural, unassuming and thoroughly enjoyable. “I’m Not There,” however, is pretentious, self-indulgent and often incomprehensible. Many professional critics loved this movie, but I disagree with their reviews. Notwithstanding Dylan’s voice providing authenticity and the lyrics calling up unforgettable memories, this flick is a total dud, and at 135 minutes, it is much too long. 

If you need to see everything ever created about Bob Dylan, be sure to see this film. If, on the other hand, you want to keep the memories and fires of discontent protected from erosion, skip this movie.

HS said: The title says it all: If I’m not there, who is, and then where am I, and why does it matter.

The film is intended as an homage to a gifted singer-writer who later lost his way and has spent years trying to find it. The religious meanderings reminded me of Bobby Fischer, the chess genius and anti-Semite. When an ostrich and a giraffe paraded across the screen, I just did not see the connection, and I like animals. Pretentious and confusing, the film to me evoked “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

A crowd of 3,000 people waited to get into the new Apple Store on W. 14th St. last Friday.

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