At the World Cinema Showcase, Julian Schnabel’s liberating eye. By DARREN BEVAN.

THERE’s no doubt the effort which went into writing Le Scaphandre et le Papillon, but an adaptation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (to give it its English title) was always going to have its work cut out for it. It’s the tale of French Elle editor Jean Dominique Bauby (Matthieu Amalric), aka Jean-do. Aged just 43 years old, he suffered a massive unexpected stroke which left him completely paralysed – and only the ability to blink his left eye. To complicate matters he’s diagnosed with a very rare condition, known as ‘Locked-in Syndrome’ which hitherto, has never been treated before. So to try and facilitate a return to some semblance of health and civilisation, therapists such as speech therapist Henriette (played by Marie Josee Croze) are employed to work with him. His ultimate method of communication is an alphabet verbally read out by therapists and a blink used to choose a letter – a painful way to communicate and one which ultimately, despite the pain of being deprived of speech, frees Jean-Do from the diving bell of his locked in life.

Nominated for Oscars and a winner at Sundance, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is no easy watch initially. Its opening is deeply uncomfortable as we view life as Jean-Do comes round from his coma and realises in abject terror, no-one can hear his pleas and cries as doctors sow up his right eyelid to prevent the spread of gangrene. We see life as he adjusts; a collection of blurred views, confusion, frustration and fear. Through clever camera use, Julian Schnabel puts us inside Jean-Do from the start of the film – and even as it progresses and we see the crippled character in the third person, we still view the entire film and events around him in first person mode.

However, once Jean-Do finds his internal voice, overcomes his reticence to try and live a life, his humour emerges. But what also emerges – and is by his own admittance in his autobiography – is a man who is quite frankly no less than a bastard. Despite a beautiful wife and three children, Jean-Do is not the affable bloke we imagine him to be (after all, how could such tragedy occur to any perfect husband). He is having an affair and regularly goes away with his mistress – although his wife is ultimately the only one who stands by him when his health fails. His relationship with his son is fractured after his son witnesses his stroke.

The devotion the family shows is admirable – and some would argue misplaced. But in the most painful scene, his wife is forced to interpret phone messages for Jean-Do from his mistress; and as if that was’t bad enough, is tortured to pass on declarations from Jean-Do to her while she’s on a phone line, where he pleads with her to come visit.

That’s the thing with this film; although at times Schnabel is a little heavy handed with the imagery – we don’t know need to see Jean-Do in a diving bell underwater or in a wheelchair on a platform surrounded by sea to know how isolated he is from society and his family – there are scenes which really get under your skin. His relationship with his father played by Max von Sydow is also poignantly underplayed and is all the more subtle because of it. His father doesn’t know how to communicate with his son via telephone, because he too is trapped indoors by illness.

It’s easy to see why the film has garnered such acclaim; although it’s the triumph of one less-than-perfect human being over such adversity (many of us would share similar flaws to Jean-Do), you can’t help but be swept away by the emotion as we relive Jean-Do’s frustrated dreams and the hand fate dealt him.