Miramax rings up 'Diving Bell' for N. America

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CANNES -- Miramax Films nabbed all North American rights to one of the most sought-after titles of the fest, Julian Schnabel's French-language drama "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" (Le Scaphandre et le Papillon) for around $3 million.

The film is based on the memoir of former Elle France magazine editor in chief Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), who became a paraplegic after a stroke. The hallucinogenic film, shot by Janusz Kaminski, brings the audience into Bauby's mind and also follows the lives of his loved ones, including his father (Max Von Sydow), children and their mother (Emmanuelle Seigner) as he attempts to complete his memoir by Morse code-style blinking.

Several mini-majors, from Paramount Vantage to Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures, were circling the film. The Walt Disney Co. distribution division closed the deal at around 5am Thursday morning in Cannes.

Miramax president Daniel Battsek, who announced the deal with Pathe executive vp Francois Ivernel, says he read the memoir when it was published in 1997. He has been tracking the project closely since then and read the screenplay by Ronald Harwood early in his Miramax tenure. "It engages your emotions," he said. "It makes you cry and makes you laugh as well."

Though the film recalls Alejandro Amenabar 's Oscar-nominated paraplegic drama "The Sea Inside," Battsek is careful to distinguish the two films. "[That film] is about a man who wanted to die," he said. "This film is about a man who wanted to live." Bauby passed away just days after his book's publication.

"Butterfly" is very likely eligible to be the official French foreign language Oscar entry because of its financing, though Schnabel's U.S. citizenship puts a slight question mark on any official decision.

The Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films co-release of the Coen brothers' adaptation "No Country for Old Men" is Miramax's other film in competition. "Butterfly" was produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Jon Kilik, and executive produced by Pierre Grunstein and Jim Lemley.

The deal was negotiated by Miramax evp business affairs and operations Michael Luisi with CAA and Pathe U.K. managing director Cameron McCracken repping Schnabel.
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