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Fact based story of Spanish fisherman, Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem), who is left a quadriplegic after a swimming accident. Distressed about the loss of dignity and functionality, he wants to be able to end his life, but has to fight a 30 year campaign in favour of euthanasia. He is assisted by lawyer Julia (Belen Rueda) herself the victim of a degenerative disease that is slowly robbing her of life, and by his family. In the rural family home, he strikes up a friendship with a single mother of two, Rosa (Lola Duenas), who finds Ramon the first man who treats her with care and affection. But Ramon's older brother, the clergy and the law are all vehemently opposed to his wishes.

Review by Louise Keller:
Grace and dignity is what Javier Bardem brings to the role of a quadriplegic who believes life is a right, not an obligation, and tries to change the law, so he can legally choose death. It's a powerhouse performance, and even though Bardem's movement is restricted to his face, there is so much expression conveyed through his soulful eyes and crooked smile. Through his eyes, we experience frustration, contemplation, reflection, humour, desire, joy and despair. It's a sobering and humbling emotional journey that not only explores the central moral issue of euthanasia, but canvasses the options, delving deeply into the consequences to those affected.

Based on the true story of Ramón Sampedro, director Alejandro Amenábar, who also produced, edited, composed the music and co-wrote the screenplay, tells the story with such simplicity. It's heartfelt, involving and profoundly moving, as we get to know this fiercely proud man, who wears dignity like a badge. When asked why he smiles so much, he replies that when you depend on others, you learn to cry with a smile. I shed many tears in this beautiful film that never asks for our sympathy, only our understanding.

There are four women in Ramón's life: Julia (Belén Rueda) who he yearns for, Rosa (Lola Dueńas) who needs him, Gené (Clara Segura) who offers moral support and Manuela (Mabel Rivera) who cares for him. Each performance hits its mark, and we are touched by all four. When he meets Belén Rueda's Julia, a beautiful lawyer suffering from a degenerative disease, who has agreed to represent him in court, he wonders why she wants to talk about his past, when all he wants to talk about is his future - and death. They connect and as they converse, share a cigarette and work on the compilation of his poetry, their relationship develops an urgency. It is not until we later meet Julia at her house by the sea that we fully realise the consequences of the decision she makes. It is in Julia that Ramón confides that although he can't see the ocean from his bed, he can elect to see it by his soul escaping from the prison-like-body, and soar over houses, roads and forests.

In flashback, we meet Ramón and see him on the fateful day of the accident that changed his life, when he dived into the sea, hitting his head on the ocean floor, snapping his spinal chord. This is the moment when he believes he should have died. The way this is treated comes as a great surprise, and the contrast between the young, athletic and handsome man of that day with the bed-bound philosopher whose agility has been restricted to mental aerobics impacts greatly.

The Sea Inside is often a tough, but satisfying film. Haunting, like the sea itself - you can taste the salt, and feel its spray.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The lifeless body of a quadraplegic doesn't mean it harbours a lifeless mind, so when a compassionate and lucid case is made for euthanasia by a human being who wants to end their suffering, it stirs the soul. The dilemma of conscience over a person's right to die when they no longer function as a physical human being continues to torment modern societies - whether governed by religious or secular authority. (refer the case of Terri Schiavo, Florida, USA, March 2005)

Somewhere between a biopic and a socio-political plea, The Sea Inside tackles the real life story of a Spanish fisherman whose body more or less died when he was a healthy and vibrant young man, diving into a shallow ocean pool, snapping his spinal column at the neck. For almost 30 years Ramon lay perfectly still in bed while his family fed, bathed and comforted him best they could. In this film, we see a sliver of that diminished life, and yet we can quickly sympathise with his situation. Whether we also sympathise with his desire to end his life will depend on a dozen influences in our individual lives.

The film is clearly told from his point of view: Javier Bardem makes Ramón a sympathetic character, if flawed, and his intellectual argument is given ballast with great humanistic arguments - with which it is hard to argue. His older brother does, however, and his heated anger at Ramón might be seen as an attempt by writer/director Alejandro Amenábar to paint opponents of euthanasia as simplistic, emotionally narrow and morally blind. I didn't know the older brother so I can't say if the portrait is truthful, but in any case, it serves the dramatic purpose of providing one of the many angles of opposition to Ramón's wish to exit his life. "Life is a right, not an obligation," he tells anyone who listens, but of course Spain's legal system and the Government didn't. What's new.

Made with a satisfying blend of conviction and humanity, occasional sardonic humour and delivered with stand out performances from Javier Bardem and everyone else, The Sea Inside makes us think and feel in equal measure. Controversy is unavoidable with the subject matter, and Amenábar doesn't shrink from taking us all the way through to the ultimate conclusion; it would be gutless if he didn't, but of course he'll be vilified for it. But not by me.

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FEATURE - Life is a right, not an obligation

(Spain/France/Italy, 2004)

Mar adentro

CAST: Javier Bardem, Belen Rueda, Lola Duenas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura, Joan Dalmau, Alberto Jimenez

PRODUCER: Alejandro Almenábar

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Almenábar

SCRIPT: Alejandro Almenábar, Mateo Gil

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Javier Aguirresarobe

EDITOR: Alejandro Almenábar

MUSIC: Alejandro Almenábar

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Benjamin Fernandez

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes



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