New Paltz Students Get a Taste of French Cinema

La lumière, la camèra, l’action! 

Interested students gathered in Crispell Hall this past Tuesday to enjoy the screening of “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon,” concluding another French Movie Night for the fall semester. 

“Walking in, I didn’t really know anything about French cinema and, to be honest, I was a bit hesitant because I thought that it was going to be pretentious and kind of sticking to rigid rules of cinematography,” said third-year communications disorders major Alex Rabinowitz. “But it didn’t.” 

Translated in English to “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” tells the true and tragic of story of French Elle magazine editor-in-chief, Jean-Dominique Bauby, who had a stroke at age 43 that paralyzed him from head to toe and left him to communicate only by blinking an eye. 

But two things aren’t paralyzed: Bauby’s imagination and memory. 

Now living with locked-in syndrome, Bauby painstakingly dictates his memoir to his beloved speech therapist through blinking—the only means of expression he has left. 

“When you’re a speech language pathologist you’re going to get some cases where you can, for lack of better words, fix a problem and through therapy you can help someone overcome something like restoring facial muscle strength or tongue strength. But a lot of the time you get cases where you can’t really fix the problem,” Rabinowitz said. “Being someone’s speech language pathologist can sometimes feel like trying to throw someone a life preserver. There’s hope.” 

The movie was filmed through the eyes of Bauby, allowing Bauby’s paralysis to be translated into the scenes’ restricted composition. 

This style of shooting brought to life a particularly cringe-worthy scene—a doctor stitching Bauby’s right eye shut after experiencing retinal occlusion. We hear Bauby’s labored breathing as we witness the doctor stick a needle into his eyelid and sew it closed. 

“I chose this particular movie to show that sometimes we don’t have to really explain something, we just have to feel it,” said third-year student and this year’s French student assistant Lilian Vallet. “During the movie, there are a lot of scenes that are really long, and you get to feel how the director feels. That is the point for me: to provide feelings to the public without showing them.”

Every year a new student assistant from France is hired by the French department to help with different tasks, one of them being to construct a list of movies and put on the French Movie Nights. Vallet chose 12 movies ranging in various genres to portray French cinema’s diversity.

“There were no real instructions,” Vallet said. “The list completely depends on the student assistant’s choice.” 

“Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” drew a strong thematic parallel to the first movie screened this semester, “Intouchable.”

While “Intouchable” was shot in a documentary style, “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” was shot through an emotional narrative and artistic cinematography.

The screening of “Le Scaphandre et le Papillon” ended up serving two purposes: to illustrate the diverse range of French movies and to draw a sharp contrast between French and American filmmaking. 

“For me, the more American way to make movies is action packed,” Vallet said. “In contrast, French movies are more focused on the characters, and the way that they evolve thanks to the events during the movie.” 

The French Club will continue to shed light on the diversity and complexity of French cinema on Tuesday, Dec. 4, with the screening of “Jeux d’enfants” in the main lounge of Crispell Hall.

Nicole Zanchelli
About Nicole Zanchelli 82 Articles
Nicole Zanchelli is a fourth-year journalism major with a sociology and Italian studies minor. This is her third semester on The Oracle. Previously, she worked as a sports assistant copy editor, an arts & entertainment copy editor and features copy editor. Her favorite articles to read and write deal with exposing corruption and analyzing social injustices.