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Dinner & Movie: Khana Peena and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Great Indian food and a wonderful French film are a perfect double bill

Pathe! Films

On Sunday night, I noticed that THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, the acclaimed new film by director Julien Schnabel* has an East Bay exclusive engagement at the Oaks theater on Berkeley’s Solano Ave. I’ve been meaning to go to the Indian restaurant a few doors up the street from the Oaks, so I whipped together dinner and a movie plans, lickety-split. It was easy to get a parking spot on the same block as the Oaks.

Khana Peena is a well-loved Indian restaurant with three East Bay locations, another on Oxford in Berkeley, and the newest on College in Oakland. The restaurant chain makes several beers, and the Solano location has three very private closed off booths in the back that have been recognized by East Bay Express as the most romantic in the area.

I was in a hurry, so I ate at the bar. The two dishes I tried, a chicken curry and a lamb and potatoes stew were delicious, as was the garlic naan cooked to perfection in a wood fired oven. It was a wonderful, quick dinner and a treat to not have to get back into the car before going to the movie.

And, man, what a movie.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
is a total original, an amazing adaptation of Jean Dominique Bauby’s acclaimed 1998 novel. Bauby was the editor of French Elle magazine who suffered a massive stroke, leaving his body paralyzed but his hearing, vision, and eyesight virtually intact. (One eyelid had to be sewn shut, so Bauby could only see out of one eye.) Initially (and understandably) despondent, Bauby was able to (amazingly) write his autobiographical novel by blinking each letter to an incredibly dedicated therapist, hospital staff, and a literary assistant.

It’s a remarkable true story, that sounds by my description, like a tortuous night at the movies. (I can feel you wanting to stop reading and go watch Clovcrfield, dear reader). Howver, the film is engrossing, beautiful, surreal, heartbreaking at times and even very funny in parts. It’s a total original, a point of view piece like nothing I’ve ever seen. Ronald Harwood’s screenplay works many miracles, as does cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s lensing. The cast is marvelous through and through, with Mathieu Amalric playing Bauby both pre-stroke, and paralyzed, and the great Max Von Sydow appears for two wonderful scenes as Bauby’s elderly father. But a lion’s share of praise goes to director Schnabel, whose film is so sthroughly engaging and fascinating that I would not be surprised to see him take home the Academy Award in a few weeks.

If you’re not inclined to drive through the Caldecott for dinner and a movie, I’m sure The Diving Bell and The Butterfly will soon be showing at The CineArts Dome in Pleasant Hill. It’s worth seeing in a theater, on a big screen. It’s one of those totally exhilharating movies that you just know you will never forget, certainly one of the best films of 2007

One more thought: In an odd way, the film reminded me of Michael Moore’s Sicko (which I enjoyed thoroughly when I saw it at the Orinda Theater this summer), in the sense that much of the film has to do with the amazing hospital care Bauby received in his native France. The doctors and rehabilitation therapists that worked with Bauby were incredibly dedicated, and deserve much credit for inspiring Bauby to “blink” out his tremendous prose. I’m glad he did not receive the kind of care that so many of the subjects in Sicko got, thanks to the for-profit health care system in the US.

Oh, and one more thought as well: Enjoying a neighborhood theater like the Oaks brought back bittersweet memories of the late great Lafayette Park Theater. To those who have not been through downtown Lafayette lately, this 1940s era single screen gem closed a few years ago. The building is still there, with the darkened marquee reading Cinema Paradiso, the second to last movie to show at the Park, and a sadly ironic in-joke to movie buffs who prefer neighborhood movie theaters to multiplex monstrosities.

*(Before Night Falls, Basquiat)