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Friday, February 04, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

A deep, blue "Sea"

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review

Enlarge this photoFINE LINE PICTURES

Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro with BelÚn Rueda as Julia in "The Sea Inside."

Gritty, poetic and devastatingly sad, Alejandro Amenábar's drama "The Sea Inside" is a weepie that earns its tears. Based on the true story of Ramón Sampedro, a writer and quadriplegic who spent decades struggling for the right to die with dignity, the film is a thoughtful examination of this most harrowing of issues, sparked with touches of wit and moments of sublime beauty.

One scene, in particular, will haunt me for some time: On a day otherwise like any other, Ramón (Javier Bardem) lies in his upstairs bedroom at his brother's rural home, in the bed that he has not left for decades, listening to Puccini. As the music (the aria "Nessun dorma," whose celestial strains seem to belong to a more perfect world than this) begins to take hold, the camera pulls away into the hallway, and suddenly Ramón gets up from his bed. He runs to the window, jumps out and soars, with the music, over the weathered green hills. It's a magical dream-moment, executed so beautifully you almost forget to breathe, and a welcome respite — for Ramón and for us — from the story's essential sadness.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 3.5 stars

"The Sea Inside," with Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Tamar Novas. Directed by Alejandro Amenábar, from a screenplay by Amenábar and Mateo Gil. 125 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated PG-13 for intense depiction of mature thematic material. Meridian.

Bardem, his handsome face transformed into that of a grayish-toned invalid (though his elegant profile can't be disguised), carries the film while barely moving a muscle. Paralyzed in a diving accident in his youth — which we're shown, in haunting flashback — he lives quietly, tended by his brusque but loving sister-in-law (Mabel Rivera), listening to the radio and staring into space. Though there is no view of the sea from his bed, he says, "I see it when I choose."

The day-to-dayness of Ramón's life is interrupted by two very different women. Julia (lovely Belén Rueda, who bears a resemblance to Catherine Deneuve) is an attorney interested in helping Ramón; she's at first skeptical, but soon rallies to support him, given new understanding by a health problem of her own. (In her final scene, she asks a question so poignant it's almost unbearable.)

And single mom Rosa (Lola Dueñas) is a neighbor, less sophisticated than Julia and more needy. Bustling and well-meaning, she quickly becomes attached to Ramón, despite a bad start. "We all have problems at times. We can't run from them," she tells him; her ill-chosen words hanging in the air.

"The Sea Inside" (nominated for a foreign-language film Academy Award last week) takes on a hot-button issue, and gives no answers except that which is entirely specific to Ramón: This man has clearly weighed life and death carefully and chosen death. Valid arguments are presented against his choice — his family, who adore him, don't want to lose him, and a priest in a wheelchair notes that "life isn't just moving your arms and running around." And Ramón hasn't taken this decision lightly. At night, he weeps, asking himself, "Why do I want to die?"

Ultimately, this is one man's story, told with great empathy, and Amenábar deserves great credit for lifting the film above the soap-opera sentimentality into which it could have easily fallen. Like Ramón in his dreams, "The Sea Inside" often soars.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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