Monday, July 09, 2007

38. Spain's Alejandro Amenabar's "Mar Adentro" (The Sea Within) (2004): The depths to explore within the film and varied human relationships


I have seen Whose life is it anyway? (1981) and now Mar adentro (2004). I loved both films while they unspooled their entertaining sexist jokes in the morbid background of a male quadriplegic requesting euthanasia. Evaluated for their witty content, the American film wins outright over the other. Evaluated for philosophical content, the Spanish film is an outright winner in contrast to the Hollywood product. The American film entertained for the duration of the film; the Spanish film entertains you by requiring you to reflect on the various segments of the film, long after the film ends.

People who know Spanish aver that the correct translation of the title would be “Into the sea”. If you have seen the film, the deep philosophical, theological and social undercurrents of the screenplay make the less accurate title “The sea within,” more appropriate.

What were the aspects of the film that made me reflect on it?

The unflinching support of a small family to care for a cripple for 27 years is unusual in Western society. This is powerfully understated throughout the film. The viewer is witness to mute actions of love from the family for the quadriplegic but only on a few occasions is the subject discussed.

This brings up the strengths of the awesome screenplay (Amenabar and Mateo Gil) that reverts time and time again to the hills visible from the quadriplegic’s bed while the memories of the quadriplegic are those of the sea. The sea is within the mind of the quadriplegic—and quite appropriately the first shot is of the sea, which is soon replaced by the hills.

Suicide is theologically a no-no for many. A repentant Judas is not forgiven by the Church because he commits suicide, while all other repenting sinners the world over are supposed to be absolved if they repent. The film, set in Catholic Spain, takes a bold step in including the loud debate between two quadriplegics—one a priest who wants to live and another, a lay man, who does not—separated literally and figuratively by a floor.

The power of media is underlined: the role of TV programs and publishing of books. Yet the real outcome is nurtured through love between individuals through direct contact. The end of the film would not be the same in the absence of love. The bonding between the sick and the crippled (physically with Julia and psychologically with Rosa) are contrasted with bonding of the physically whole near family—Manuela and Gene.

This is my second Amenabar film—the first was The others. While Mar adentro deals with a thought provoking subject, the brilliance of the young director is underlined in The others--a fabulous ghost story, elegantly told. Amenabar and Andrei Zvygintsev (The Return, discussed in this blog earlier) are the most promising and talented young filmmakers (both Europeans) today. Amenabar has proven that he can direct great movies, elicit great performances from his actors (Javier Bardem, here. and Nicole Kidman in The Others), write good music and pick fine appropriate music of established composers (Puccini, Beethoven, Mozart and Richard Wagner). Like good cognac, the film is best appreciated by reflecting on all its attributes after the repast of the film viewing.

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