Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Refrain in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

While watching The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) for the first time the other day, I noticed a familiar tune recurring during certain points of the film. Of course, musical refrains are not uncommon in film, but this one affected me more than your average refrain. As I listened to it I realized that it was because I knew the tune from somewhere else, eventually realizing it was the familiar violin-plucked tune from The 400 Blows (1959). You hear this theme at various times throughout the film, but it is probably most noticeable at the end, right before the credits roll.

The choice of the tune from The 400 Blows makes sense, as it reflects a sort of ascription to a French cinematic tradition - though, it should be noted that neither director Julian Schnabel nor composer Paul Cantelon are French, but the film was produced by French companies. The choice is complicated, however, considering The 400 Blows follows Antoine as he escapes the confines of first his school and family, and then the boarding school he is brought to after being jailed, while The Diving Bell and the Butterfly follows a man who can who can't physically escape anything. Although it would warrant a close reading, I would guess the tune is most likely played at moments where Jean-Do realizes there is potential 'escape' in memory and imagination. This does in fact seem to be the emotional undertaking of the film.

The refrain itself is used in an interesting manner here. Deleuze and Guattari (but I am thinking mostly of Guattari in Chaosmosis) would say that the refrain here is used to outline the territory of an existential moment - which is a useful definition when thinking about film: most often the musical refrain is used in film to cement a particular mood or feeling of a film, the intended 'affect' of the film. If one knows The 400 Blows well, it would then follow that the refrain evokes this particular feeling of 'escape' in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Indeed, the tune itself sounds curious, as if one is entering new territory for the first time like Antoine experiencing the ocean for the first time in The 400 Blows - check out the video posted above, starting around 3:48.

Perhaps this is why I enjoyed the film so much. The idea that one who is completely immobilized, except for an eye, can appreciate and explore the potentiality of memory and imagination is interesting, but perhaps a bit cliche at the same time. Feeling that exploration, curiosity, and potentiality is entirely different though. This isn't something only film can afford us, but it is something that film seems particularly adept at doing when it is in the right hands.

1 comment:

  1. This post affected me. Ha.

    Also, I think it's interesting to consider how this refrain functions for those who aren't familiar with 400 Blows (which, apparently, is the majority of our intro film students), or maybe don't make the connection with the music's source (aka me). Or, perhaps it's not interesting at all because it just doesn't work that way...