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Sea Inside, The

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 12/18/04 12:58:07

"Ramón, Full of Grace."
5 stars (Awesome)

Exquisitely crafted, photographed, and performed, The Sea Inside is equally as uplifting as it is heartbreaking. It is the story of a man seeking his right to death by euthanasia that is filled to the brim with irony, vitality, and humor.

Javier Bardem is electrifying as Ramón Sampedro, a poet trapped inside the body of a quadriplegic, a Galician fisherman who was left paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a freak diving accident.

After his accident, Ramón lived for 30 years in the care of his sister-in-law Manuela (Mabel Rivera), who loved and tended him as she would her own child, anguishing even as she respected and supported his wish to end his life. His brother José (Celso Bugallo), a farmer and an intensely religious man, was vehemently opposed to Ramón’s battle with the Spanish government for his right to die. Ramón’s stolid father Joaquín (Joan Dalmau) said little but had to have agonized over any parent’s greatest dread of a child predeceasing him. Rounding out Ramón’s family was his beloved nephew Javi (Tamar Novas), who doted on the uncle who chided him about his grammar and who was blessed with youth’s incomprehension on the finality of death.

Ultimately, ten people collaborated with Sampedro on his death by cyanide poisoning in 1998, which was filmed for Spanish television. Each had just little enough involvement to avoid prosecution for murder. Here, writer-director Alejandro Amenábar has created a composite of those people in three women who helped Ramón end his life with the dignity he craved.

Gené (Clara Seguara) is a civil-rights activist, an ebullient woman who champions Ramón’s right to die at the same time she celebrates her own pregnancy and the birth of her child.

Julia (Belén Rueda) is the lawyer hired by Gené to fight for Ramón’s cause. She is a woman suffering from a debilitating disease of her own, who becomes Ramón’s soulmate and helps him finish out his life by creating a book of his poetry – a book he titles “Letters from Hell.”

Rosa (Lola Dueñas) is a single mother who befriends and ultimately falls in love with Ramón after seeing him on television, who pleads with him to rethink the sanctity and value of his life. Ironically, it is she who must rethink her own beliefs when Ramón opens her mind to his definition of love.

Besides directing, co-writing (with Mateo Gil), and editing his film, Amenábar composed its rapturous original score, which he complemented with classic music played on Sampedro’s own record player. In one wondrous fantasy scene in which he is transported by Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma,” Ramón (Romeo) rises out of the bed that has become his prison and soars over trees, across fields, and past mountains to greet Julia (Juliet), the lover who awaits him at his beloved seashore – the sea, which he says, gave him life and then took it away.

Many actors have done wonderful work performing as handicapped characters. I can think of only two – Bardem here, and Moon So-ri in Oasis – who have accomplished the incredible task of creating a disabled character and a parallel able-bodied one. Bardem’s feat is all the more remarkable for the fact that he was called upon to act only with his face – the face that, in Ramón Sampedro’s own words, learned to cry by smiling. Bardem is simply stunning!

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