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December 2004

By Julian Roman
The Sea Inside

Distributor: Fine Line Features
Director: Alejandro Amenábar
Producers: Alejandro Amenábar, Fernando Bovaira
Screenwriters: Mateo Gil, Alejandro Amenábar
Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe
Composer: Alejandro Amenábar
Cast: Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueńas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo




Javier Bardem, the stalwart actor of Spanish cinema, gives the performance of his career in Alejandro Amenabar's euthanasia masterpiece, The Sea Inside. It is the true story of quadriplegic activist Ramon Sampedro, who fought the Spanish government for thirty years for his right to die. Sampedro broke his neck in a horrific diving accident. He was a strapping, athletic man that had sailed around the world as a crewman on merchant vessels. Left bedridden, Sampedro decided to end his life rather than live with paralysis. He didn't want his family or friends prosecuted for their assistance, so he challenged Spain's laws prohibiting euthanasia. His story galvanized the euthanasia movement and propelled Sampedro unwillingly into the public spotlight. His sincere demeanor and beautiful writings had a tremendous effect on people. Sampedro gained a few admirers and would eventually become smitten by two of them.

Ramon Sampedro's tale is handled with profound elegance and simplicity by Alejandro Amenabar. The right to die is a divisive issue with numerous ethical and spiritual problems. Amenabar avoids preaching and concentrates on the magnificence of his subject. Ramon is confined to his bed, but is in constant contact with the outside world. His relationships are the liberators of his spirit. The entire film is expertly shot in tight confines, but the writing and actors breathe vigor into an otherwise stale environment. The great accomplishment of the film is Amenabar's interpretation of Ramon Sampedro's fantasies. He dreams about his beloved ocean, just out of view of his bedroom window. Amenabar takes us through that window with epically soaring scenes of the land and its lead to the ocean. The title of the film, The Sea Inside, refers to how Ramon imagines the ocean. It has a spellbinding effect, hammering in the solitude of Ramon's condition while adding a distinct visual tone. Amenabar does a phenomenal job as writer and director. He puts himself alongside the great Spanish directors with his work on The Sea Inside.

Understatement is an elusive quality that most actors never get or have the skill to portray. Javier Bardem masters it in The Sea Inside. He plays Ramon Sampedro with a quiet ease that's stunning in its greatness. Ramon Sampedro was not a larger than life individual. He faced a tragedy that destroyed his body and caged his mind. His fight for death was a personal struggle waged in the public arena, while dealing with other emotional issues at home. Javier Bardem gives Ramon the strength of conviction and the sorrow of a life lost. He's a titan in this film, completely immobile, yet steeled in his will. Foreign language performances rarely win Oscars; Javier Bardem has a good chance of reversing that trend.

The Sea Inside does not leave you with sadness. The subject matter is not uplifting, but the understanding of one man's struggle is. Ramon Sampedro was a fascinating person and the film treats him as such. It might not change your opinion of euthanasia, but does an excellent job of showing the humanity behind it. It is easily one of the year's best films and another splendid example of the great filmmaking being done in Spain.