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Padre Francisco: «Freedom without a life is not freedom.»

Ramón Sampedro: «A life without freedom is not a life.» 



WHAT IS A DIGNIFIED life? And who has the right to decide what it is? Alejandro Amenábar’s film «Mar adentro» (English title: «The Sea Inside «) raises these questions based on the real life story of Ramón Sampedro who at the age of 25 became paralysed from the neck down after a diving accident. For 30 years he fought the authorities in court for «Life as a right, not a duty» in order to get the right to die assisted by his friends, since he was unable to take his own life. However, he lost the trial, and hence the right to die by active euthanasia. In 1998 he died, aided by friends in a process where the contribution of each was so small that none of those involved could be charged with murder. Thus, he won a fight for his dignity, despite loosing a principled legal battle.

AS A FILM about active euthanasia, this is a surprisingly vivacious story. Paradoxically, the main character is a source of energy to the people around him: his brother, the brother’s wife and son whom he lives with and who take care of him, his lawyer Julia who also suffers from a chronic degenerating illness, and the unemployed single mother Rosa, who lives in the village and who in the end helps him to arrange his own death. The interplay between these persons is rendered in a nuanced way. Even the closest supporters of Ramón Sampedro want to give him a desire to live rather than assisting him in taking his own life, and find it difficult to accept his decision. In the end, some do, others do not. In one of the film’s most striking scenes Ramón is visited by a priest who also suffers from paralysis from the neck down. The priest tries to convince Ramón that life can be valuable even when one is not able to move, and that judging its value is not down to oneself. Since the priest is unable to ascend the stairs with his wheelchair, the discussion between the two is at first mediated by a round-eyed, young boy who runs up and down the stairs, thereafter by the two debaters shouting to one another. Sampedro argues his case well, and the priest has to leave the house without having achieved his goal. The scene exemplifies how the film is amusing without losing seriousness. It is carried out with a sensitivity that enables jokes on very serious themes without becoming trivial, and without ever losing the main character’s point of view from sight.

JAVIER BARDEM plays very well the main character with a highly expressive face and nuanced low-tuned acting. He renders Sampedro as someone whose charm and wit attracts people, while he tests them at the same time and forces them to see the seriousness of his intensions. Julia, the lawyer, and the main character develop a deep understanding and love for one another. She discovers the poems he has written, with the pen held in his mouth, and insists on having them published. She promises him that on the day that the first printed copy is ready, she will take his life and then her own. However, she changes her mind and mails the book to him without seeing him again. While Ramón Sampedro chooses assisted suicide, the lawyer Julia chooses a slow process of physical and mental dissolution, involving paralysis and loss of memory. The question posed to the viewers is whether we are able to accept the choices of both. The film is hereby highly recommended.



MAR ADENTRO (English title: THE SEA INSIDE), Spain, 2004.

Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar

Screenplay: Mateo Gil, Alejandro Amenábar

Actors: Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo, Clara Segura, and others.

Prices: Among others: Venice, 2004: Grand Prix, Javier Bardem: Volpi Cup for best actor, Young Cinema Award for best international film, 2005: Oscar for best foreign language film.


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