Mar Adentro (15)
a.k.a The Sea Inside
Dir: Alejandro Amenebar
Javier Bardem, Lola Duenas, Clara Segura
This fourth film by Alejandro Amenebar is a significant shift from the suspense narratives of his earlier work (Tesis, Abres los Ojos and The Others) to what appears, superficially, to be a very well played, professionally-mounted disease-of-the-week melodrama. Here he relates the ripped-from-the-headlines tale of Ramon Sampedro, a quadriplegic sailor who fought for the last 30 years of his life to be given the legal right to die peacefully. Javier Bardem occasionally excels in this key role, and the supporting cast offers other notable turns.
Both Lola Duenas as a local woman drawn to Ramon after seeing him campaign on TV and Clara Segura as an activist adviser who gets the story (as told) underway, make for likable, believable characters, rendered humbly and humanistically. None of the cast embarrass themselves, and the crew acquit themselves respectably too. The handling of the themes and conceits related by the movie's name make, in fact, for the highpoints. We see, literally, The Sea Inside, the imaginary arena in which Ramon makes his flights of fantasy.
From the beginning to the end, this film is in love with the physical world - and by extension, life. This is not the only means by which the film takes a political or philosophical stance on euthanasia, but it is the most inherently convincing. We are reminded, by Ramon, that even three feet of empty air is not to be taken for granted, for him it is effectively an insurmountable gulf. This awareness vividly imbues the cinematographic approach as from vast window views to a tangible outside momentarily given focus through the windscreen of a car Amenebar studies the actual space around us. Not since Twelve Monkeys has a feature film been so in love with our planet, it's solidity and practical actuality.
In Mar Adentro's deep space, we feel the beauty of being alive all around us in the cinema, even the thoughts, senses and memories of the characters rendered in terms of physical experience. Of course, as well, this can serve to remind us, in many regards, what Ramon feels he has lost and why he wishes to die. His world remains - it might be argued, though I would not personally agree - as only a movie, only a spectacle, only something to be seen and not experience, the blank spaces filled in with daydreams not participation.
The movie concludes with either Ramon's success or confirmation that he was never helped to die a willing, peaceful death. If this resolution divides audiences, however, I will be surprised. Despite the implicit side-taking I mentioned above, I believe the eventual, overwhelming experience has less to do with any political or theological debate than a sense of growing awareness of one man's experience, one man's feelings and one man's struggles. Mar Adentro is a success for the gifted Amenebar and his star Bardem, for each it is their best showing yet.Brendon Connelly 08/02/05