Saturday, February 19, 2005

Title: The Sea Inside
Cast: Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura, Joan Dalmau, Alberto Jiménez, Tamar Novas, Francesc Garrido
Director: Alejandro Amenabar

The Sea Inside is emotive and charged. How could it not be? Based on the true story of Ramon Sampedro, who had lived something like 26 years as a quadriplegic after a diving accident and wanted to be allowed to die. Awash on a sea of conflicting feelings the characters are torn, even those who love Ramon and support his decision can’t bring themselves to be 100% behind him.

To some degree the film is about the legal battle surrounding Ramon, unable to take his own life, he wants to ensure that if he goes for euthanasia that no one will be prosecuted for his desires. With that, this aspect is in the background, following instead his relationships with the people around him. How he interacts with his family, his sister-in-law who looks after him, his nephew who lends his hand, his brother who is dead set against his death, his father who despite encroaching senility still knows what is going on. Then there is the woman from the charity that supports people in Ramon’s position, the lawyer who has agreed to fight his case, and the local woman who increasingly comes by to use him as a sounding board for her problems. This way we focus on the people, and the range of emotions that they all experience as they go through these events.

Alejandro Amenabar no doubt gained the most attention with his only Hollywood outing to date – the film The Others, which starred Nicole Kidman. However before that there was his debut film, a thriller called Thesis. That was followed by the science fiction tinged Open Your Eyes, which was remade for American audiences as Vanilla Sky. From The Others, he returns to Spain with The Sea Inside and delivers a film which is something of a departure for him. There are less of the genre undertones that have been present in his previous work, though his cinematic eye and visual approach shine through.

The film is based on a true story, Ramon Sampedro a Galician Spaniard who made a name for himself fighting the system and publishing a book of his writing shortly before his death. The role of Ramon is taken by Javier Bardem, who I last saw alongside Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx in Collateral (Cruise having been instrumental in the conversion of Amenabar’s Open Your Eyes to Vanilla Sky). As one of Spain’s most prominent actors, Bardem has created a strong reputation for himself – working with other prominent Spanish directors like Pedro Almodovar (High Heels, Live Flesh), J.J. Bigas Luna (Golden Balls, Jamon Jamon) and Alex De La Iglesia (Perdita Durango). Bardem is truly on form with his performance in The Sea Inside, playing the part of an aging bed bound man for the majority of the film. The flashbacks to when Ramon was younger, to when he had his accident serve to underline the degree to which Bardem has been made up – the flashbacks showing him as he actually is, before returning to this grey, balding crippled man. The rest of the cast are strong and compliment Bardem’s performance well; despite the fact that several of them look familiar, only Lola Dueñas has been in anything I have seen, having a part in Almodovar’s Talk To Her.

The Sea Inside is filled with nice little scenes that will stay with the viewer afterwards, making it a memorable piece. Apart from which Amenabar is always one to watch.

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