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Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro
Belen Ruedoa as Julia
Lola Duenas as Rosa
Mabel Rivera as Manueal
Celso Bugallo as Jose
Clara Segura as Gene
Joan Dalmau as Joaquin
Tamar Novas as Javi
Francesc Garrido as Marc
Alberto Jimenez as German
Jose Maria Pou as Father Francisco
Alberto Amarilla as Father Andres
Despite a disappointing ending, Alejandro Amenabar has created a truly unique and thought-provoking love story that showcases another career-defining performance by the talented Javier Bardem.
Quadriplegic Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) has spent the last thirty years of his life confined to a bed. Nothing would make him happier than to be able to die with dignity, but assisted suicide is still a crime in Spain. To help him win his case, he enlists the help of a beautiful disabled lawyer named Julia, but a single mother named Rosa prefers to spend her time trying to convince Ramon that life is worth living.
After a rather odd shift in direction with his spooky English language horror film The Others, Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, who created the original Spanish film on which Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky was based, returns to his native language and land for a moving film that treads similar ground as his fellow countryman Pedro Almodovar.
Based on a true story, Sampedro's situation is an interesting and unusual one. The writer injured himself while cliff diving in his late 20s and then spent the next thirty years trying to convince someone to help him commit suicide, something that has received him a lot of attention in the press. His battle with the system brings him in contact with two women who have their own agendas in trying to help him, creating a love triangle as one tries to help him get his wish while the other tries to change his mind. In honesty, neither of them really wants to see him die, and you'd think that having two women lavishing you with attention would give someone enough reason to want to live.
Needless to say, Sampedro is a difficult character. He has a bit of a smug know-it-all attitude that doesn't allow you to immediately empathize or feel pity for his situation. You almost feel worse for his family who have to put up with his constant mood swings and negative attitude, as shown by his relationship with his impressionable nephew who obviously looks up to his uncle and gets treated the worst by him for it.
Still, there's no denying that Javier Bardem's portrayal of the cranky quadriplegic is highly memorable. Besides playing a character twenty years his senior, Bardem is able to carry the entire film using just his voice and facial expressions, something that very few actors would be able to pull off. It's the only reason why a movie that essentially shows a man lying in bed for two hours is able to work. Like Almodovar's best films, The Sea Inside has a solid dialogue-heavy script brought to life by a cast of mostly unknown actors like the wonderful Belen Ruedoa, and it keeps the film grounded in reality.
America has had its own share of Kevourkian cases, but the subject of euthanasia would not have been nearly as effective if set here, as the religious implications of Sampedro's quest often outweigh the legal ones by being set in Spain. The movie's most amusing scene involves a heated debate between Sampedro and a wheelchair-bound priest that tries to talk him out of his deathwish. At first, their discussion is relayed back and forth by an out-of-breath assistant, but it quickly turns into a hilarious yelling match between the two floors of the house.
As long as it takes to finally warm up to Sampedro's salty attitude, not everyone will be satisfied by the choice Amenabar makes when the story can only go in one of two directions. Even after the film reaches its obvious climax, it then keeps going and going, leaving a confusing half hour full of the over-sentimentality that afflicts far too many European directors. The worst example of this is seen when Sampedro's nephew chases after the van taking him to his new home.
While not everyone will appreciate what Amenabar has accomplished with his latest film, the parallels to Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions and Almodovar's Talk to Her will appeal to fans of those poignant dramas, and Sampedro's bedridden exploits are worth more than a few smiles and tears.