I can’t help it. Mar adentro was my favorite film of 2004, so naturally, when I see another movie about a paralyzed guy, I’m going to compare. (I think Murderball, about paraplegics was an awesome documentary I saw in the same year.)
This isn’t a right-to-die movie (and, really, neither was Mar adentro, but it revolved around that philosophical quetion), and the real Jean-Dominique Bauby actually did dictate his memoir by freakin’ blinking his one working eye. So there’s that.
While one has to be amazed that the Spanish made a compelling movie (Mar adentro) where the lead character could only move his head, it’s almost one-upmanship that the French made a movie around a lead character who could only blink his eye.
The imagery is much the same, of course, but the motivations are different. Where Ramon Sampedro (Mar) has no hope of recovery, Jean-Do (Butterfly) has a slim hope that he ultimately works toward (when not engrossed in self-pity). Neither story offers any reason for the injury: Ramon is painted as a proud, physical man, while Jean-Do’s only sin seems to be having left his wife (and his children, though he visits them) for another woman and treating her rather callously–even when his mistress (who he’s broken up with prior to his “event”) hasn’t seen him once while he’s been hospitalized.
This is as it should be, no doubt. Moralizing would be a ham-handed attempt at manipulation for some ulterior purpose. I would have liked a different ending to this film, but that was out of a human desire to see a miracle rather than feeling cheated by someone trying to make a “serious” film.
Now, obviously, this film isn’t for everyone. I didn’t find it depressing–I don’t find movies with sad cirumstances to be depressing, just movies that celebrate nihilism–but it’s not (as one might reasonably worry) dull. If you found Mar adentro worth watching, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too, as its reflections on mortality and morality are much different.
As a postscript, I have to say that I love the way French films I’ve seen show women, particularly older women. The women are shown with scars and wrinkles, and otherwise less than flawless skin, but they’re still portrayed as being objects of desire. And Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Jose Croze, Anne Consigny and the others are all quite lovely.