Political Film Society - Newsletter #215 - December 27, 2004

December 27, 2004


The Sea InsideThe Sea Inside (Mar Adentro), directed by Alejandro Amenábar, is a plea for the right of a person to end one's own life, with a subtext about the hypocrisy of Catholicism's opposition to suicide yet support for the death penalty. The Spanish film, which also could be translated "Adrift," is based on the true story of Ramón Sampedro (played by Javier Bardém). In the film, for twenty-eight years (thirty years in actuality), Ramón is a quadriplegic, cared for in the Galicia home of his petulant older brother José (played by Celso Bugallo), loving sister-in-law Manuela (played by Mabel Rivera), and their impish teenage son Javi (played by Tamar Novas). In his dreams, seen as flashbacks in the film, he often recalls the fateful day, when, at the age of twenty, he dived into a coastline lagoon just as the tide went out, hitting his head on the bottom and causing permanent peripheral nerve damage, thus experiencing the sea inside himself. He wants to die because his life offers so few joys and many burdens to his relatives, but he needs assistance to do so. His brother, for example, gave up a career as a sailor to became a family farmer, a hardship that he brings up a few times, though his spouse provides most of the care and compassion in the family. Spanish law does not permit assisted suicide. When the film begins, Gené (played by Clara Segura), the activist of the Death with Dignity organization has found an attorney, Julia (played by Belén Rueda), to represent him in court to challenge the law, one who is also afflicted with a debilitating disease. To get evidence for the forthcoming legal battle, Julia interviews Ramón and sifts through his papers. What she learns not only inspires much compassion but also prompts her to seek a publisher for his poetry, a book that serves to gain public support for his cause, which nevertheless fails in court.

Meanwhile, he often tunes into a program of a twice-weekly radio host, Rosa (played by Lola Dueñas), who in turn is eager to meet Ramón when she learns of his fight. Similar to Manuela, both Julia and Rosa fall in love with Ramón, whose courage and sweet smiles are intoxicating. However, Julia one day collapses from a stroke and becomes paraplegic and, later, prematurely senile. On another day, Rosa offers to relocate Ramón from his family's residence to her own place by the sea. Although Ramón never wavers from wanting an end to his life, despite encouragement to live from Rosa and a prominent Catholic priest, when the film ends, Ramón has one more chance to decide to live or die while being cared for by Rosa. Although there is no consensus within the human rights community thus far on whether the right to live implies a right to die with dignity, the Political Film Society has nominated The Sea Inside as the best film on human rights of 2004.  MH

Among the many films released at the end of the year to quality for Academy Award nominations, several merit attention. Several more are biopics--The Aviator is about eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, Finding Neverland is about J. M. Barrie, and The Aryan Couple is about Hungarian Jewish industrialist Manfred Weiss, who purchased his freedom from the Nazis. Problems of immigrant adjustment are treated in Ae Fond Kiss is another of Ken Loach's masterful films dealing with the lives of extraordinary ordinary people in Scotland, and Spanglish, a tragicomedy about two illegal aliens--a Mexican woman and her daughter. The Choir is a French tale about a teacher who transforms a school for bad boys by teaching them how to sing.