The Sea Inside Review

The Sea Inside is based on a true story. Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) was paralysed from the neck down after a diving accident and for thirty years campaigned for the right to end his life with dignity.

Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar’s fourth film is something of a departure. His previous three films (Thesis, Open Your Eyes and The Others) are all genre films, either overtly (the first and last, both horror films of different types) or covertly (Open Your Eyes, remade in America as Vanilla Sky, reveals itself via plot revelations to be SF). With The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro in Spanish) he moves into what is arguably another genre, the inspirational biopic.

Tetraplegia seems to be having its turn as subject matter, as it featured in two Oscar-winning films of 2004: this one and another which I won’t name to avoid a plot spoiler. There’s also the undervalued 1981 film of Brian Clark’s play Whose Life Is It Anyway?, which covers similar themes and also centres on a fine performance, in this case from Richard Dreyfuss. Given a protagonist who cannot use any of his limbs, and about sixty percent of the running time takes place in his room, Amenabar has to use other resources to maintain his viewers’ interest. He moves his camera a lot, as if to defy the static nature of the story. You could also suggest that shooting in Scope is a move towards a greater expansiveness, the wider screen avoiding a sense of claustrophobia. In a striking sequence, we enter Sampedro’s mind and seem to fly out of the window and across the land to the beach.

But most of all, The Sea Inside relies on an acting tour de force, that of Javier Bardem in the central role. With the aid of some fine makeup, he’s all but unrecognisable as the fiftysomething Sampedro, looking much more like his real self in flashbacks. Also, vitally, Bardem conveys the charm that attracted women to him: those we see in the film are composites of many in real life. This is one of the best performances of last year, and quite how it was overlooked for an Oscar nomination is a mystery. The film was, however, deservedly nominated for Best Makeup.

The Sea Inside did win the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, beating Downfall amongst others. I’m not sure I would agree with that. There’s no doubt this is a stylish, very well made and acted, intelligent piece of filmmaking that treats a serious subject without undue sentimentality. Although it’s about one man’s fight for the right to die, it is a film that is on the side of life. But somehow it misses something, possibly in its attempt not to depress the audience. We get little sense of the despair that must have been inside Sampedro, for all the dignity with which he bore his disability. It’s still well worth seeing, but somehow just misses that vital spark that could have made it great.

The DVD reviewed is the Canadian Region 1 edition from Alliance Atlantis, which is very similar to the US edition from New Line. The only difference seems to be the inclusion of a French 2.0 soundtrack on the Canadian release instead of a Spanish 2.0. Some people will wish to know that the packaging of the Canadian release is in both English and French.

The Sea Inside was filmed in 2.35:1 and that’s the ratio the DVD transfer is in, anamorphically enhanced of course. The DVD takes in brightly-lit beach scenes and more low-key domestic details. Colours are true, blacks solid and there’s no artefacting that I could see. This is a first-rate transfer.

There are two soundtracks. The main one has the original Spanish dialogue (much of it in Galician dialect) in a 5.1 mix. This is a tasteful soundtrack for a largely dialogue-driven film. The surrounds are used mainly for ambience and for Amenabar’s music score. There’s also a French dub in 2.0 with surround enabled, but original language (with subtitles if necessary) is the way to go. There are seventeen chapter stops.

Amenabar provides a commentary in Spanish, with subtitles available in English only. He does wonder if he should provide one, as much of what he says is covered in the making-of documentary. This, “A Trip to the Sea Inside” (84:21) takes us through the making of the film in some detail, beginning with Amenabar writing the script with Mateo Gil, taking in casting, preproduction, principal photography and postproduction, featuring interviews with the director and the principal cast and crew members. This is a thorough and consistently interesting documentary, presented in 4:3 with Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio.

There are three deleted scenes, which can be selected separately or played together via a “Play All” link. They are: “I Want You to Go” (1:07), “Julia Changes Her Mind” (4:28) and “Dedication” (00:46). The first two cover an excised subplot involving Julia (Belén Rueda) and her marriage. The scenes are presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with 2.0 Surround sound. The subtitles appear partly over the black bars, which does prevent anyone who needs them from zooming this material on a widescreen TV.

Three galleries follow: thirty-two colour stills, a thirty-two-page storyboard of the accident sequence, and seventeen pages of Benjamin Fernandez’s set designs. Finally, we have the US green-label (all audiences) trailer, which runs 2:09 and is in 1.85:1 anamorphic and 5.1 sound. “More from New Line” consists of trailers for Vera Drake and Terence Malick’s forthcoming The New World. (The US release apparently has a trailer for A Very Long Engagement instead of the latter.) Finally, for those with DVD-ROM facilities, there’s a series of weblinks. These require Interactual Player 2.0, which is also available on the disc: as so often, it’s only compatible with Windows (98SE upwards) and Internet Explorer (at least 5.0). Anyone else, including Mac users, can forget it. My computer should qualify, but I couldn’t get the software to run.

Although I have reservations about it, I’d certainly recommend The Sea Inside. Amenabar has proved himself to be a real filmmaker before this, and he does so again. The film gets an excellent presentation on disc, with a very good set of extras.

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Last updated: 12/08/2018 04:26:43

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