Cinema Signal:

Contemporary Spanish Cinema
by Barry Jordan, Rikki Morgan-Tamosunas

. "The Sea Inside" (aka "Mar Adentro", "The Sea Within")
[Due to the unpredictable ways in which browsers display accents and diacritical marks, they have been removed]

This film is a tour de force in all respects. It is an agonizing story of man's control over his destiny that's so well done you may feel guilty about its entertainment value and its gripping fascination with the central performance.

All is not well with Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem). This ex-ship mechanic is charming, tasteful, intelligent, and humorous, all of which he displays from his bed, where he's been confined since the accident that parlyzed him thirty years ago. In that time, he's learned to write using a self-designed stick in his mouth but not to accept things as they are.

Those around him feel deep respect and love--even his teenage nephew Javi (Tamar Novas) is devoted. From the lawyers who have been pleading his case to his family members, they attempt to fulfill his limited life. They dote on him, amuse him, provide every need or desire. Except for the thing he wants most. To die.

But he wants to do it under legal sanction and the Spanish laws and judges are as closed to the idea of legalizing euthanasia as they would be to granting citizenship to apes. Just like many another country. At the point where the story begins, Gene' (Clara Segura), an attractive straight talker who is half the legal team that has been fighting the case valiantly and persistently in the courts, is bringing in Julia (Belen Rueda), a new lawyer with specialized credentials.

This new addition to the legal component of the case shows up walking with a cane and is ravishingly beautiful. We learn later that Sampedro, who is as obdurate as he is witty, and has continually vetoed any other additions to his team of legal advisors, agreed to Julia's participation in his case because she's a victim of a degenerative disease. Only a fellow invalid need apply.

When Rosa (Lola Duenas), a struggling worker in a nearby town sees Sampedro's appearance on TV, she senses a strong pull of understanding and wishes to meet him. She bicycles over for the meet (audience? interview?) and, despite his cold dashes of reality concerning anything other than a platonic thanks and piss off, she becomes deeply enamored and supportive--except where it might come to helping him fulfill his wish.

So, now, in addition to Manuela (Mabel Rivera), his purely faithful sister-in-law and primary caregiver, two women who are prone to be jealous of one another as his time is divided between them, enter deeply into his life. So deeply, that their concepts of death and love evolve in unexpected ways. The impact Sampedro has on all around him proves to be profound.

Which may sound overly sentimental to some ears and, perhaps exploitative. Certainly we find compelling stories in which individuals overcome indomitable odds. Movie makers have been all too eager to take advantage of the legions of suckers for a handicap story or terminal disease ("Love Story", "Lorenzo's Oil", "The Barbarian Invasions." But this film rises above that norm. It does so out of the sheer depth of Bardem's magnetism, talent and screen-filling presence. (See "Mondays in the Sun" and "Before Night Falls"). Were he the actual Sampedro on whom the story was based, the attachment and love he instinctively inspires from everyone who enters his space would be uncontestable. This actor is a powerhouse of vital instincts. Comparisons to Orson Welles and Marlon Brando are wholly appropriate, which John Malkovich knew when he cast him in his first directorial effort, "The Dancer Upstairs."

The supporting cast consistently gives us a portrait of humanity at its irrepressibly best, little doubt arises as to the movie-making expertise of Alejandro Amenabar ("Open Your Eyes", "Thesis"), a director with the kind of incisive judgement and taste to inject deep emotions into a high-stakes, thought-provoking context. His leaning toward uncharted areas of human psychology and departure from an accepted "norm" is to be applauded. He co-wrote this with close friend and collaborator Mateo Gil and cast it from talents in the Spanish cinema as well as TV. Belen, whose beauty is far more than superficial, whose dimensions go into deep areas of complexity, has been (up to now?) a TV personality.

Lola Duenas (the nurse in Almodovar's "Talk To Her") simply excels as a woman with a touch of brazen persistence and character uniqueness in search of fulfillment. Her beauty is of a whole other kind. Similarly, Clara Segura, who plays a part that might be dismissed as a plot function. She delivers a key figure, however, who expresses the very dilemma between the purely legal and the deeper life-supporting issues. In a performance that represents us, the citizenry, in the difficult juggling of values, she's worthy of our praise and admiration.

My feeling is that the subject of euthanasia is not likely to be better addressed or more cinematically presented. World cineastes who have not yet discovered or paid homage to Spanish filmmaking talent would be well advised to concentrate time in this area. A study of Bardem's and Amenabar's work will be hugely rewarding. Promise!

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Site rating: 10

as a physician I completely agree with euthanasia as presented in this movie

                                                           ~~ S. Gordon 

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