‘Sea Inside’ a study in human dynamics | AspenTimes.com
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‘Sea Inside’ a study in human dynamics

Stewart Oksenhorn

“The Sea Inside,” the true story of Ramón Sampedro, a quadriplegic fighting for his legal right to die, could go in one of two directions. It could be the emotion-driven story of Ramón’s struggle with his paralysis. Or it could be more focused on the legal process, as his case makes its way through the Spanish courts.Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar, who co-wrote the script with Mateo Gil, chooses neither of those obvious paths. There are bits of the legal tussle, following Ramón’s case from the lower courts on up, all of which reject his right to end his life. And how could a film centered around a quadriplegic not touch on the person’s emotional response to his condition?In Amenábar’s telling, “The Sea Inside” becomes both a smaller and a larger story. Smaller, because it doesn’t look at the big-picture implications of the right to die. And larger, in that the film focuses not only on Ramón’s predicament, but on the responses it draws out of those closest to him.We pick up the story of Ramón, played with complexity and humor by Javier Bardem, when he is an adult, long used to being confined to a bed. The diving accident that paralyzed him is shown in dreamy flashback; we are not meant to trace Ramón’s coming to terms with the incident and how it has left him.What we are forced to confront is Ramón’s desire to end his life, and the issue is posed with an abundance of moral ambiguity. Ramón is not in physical pain, nor is he in perpetually horrible spirits. His expansive intelligence is intact, he smiles easily. There are plenty of physically capable people whose moods are far less upbeat than Ramón’s. Why, then, would he want to die?That question affects everyone, including caretakers, relatives and friends, who live around Ramón in his countryside house in Galicia. Representing the polar opposites of reactions to Ramón’s cause are Julia (Belén Rueda), a partially crippled lawyer who takes up his court case; and Rosa (Lola Dueñas), a fragile local woman who befriends Ramón with uncommon selfishness but still opposes his desire to die. Like the Canadian film “The Barbarian Invasions,” winner of last year’s Academy Award for best foreign language film and also the story of people in the presence of a charismatic, bed-ridden man, “The Sea Inside” gains breadth by focusing not just on the needs and desires of the central character. The film shows us how a person’s condition brings out the best, worst and most extreme in a variety of characters. Amenábar gives us no shallow morality play, but a full-bodied, stylish and sensitive examination of the human dynamics.The so-called prestige films featured in Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings gain their stature by handling the tough issues. And since it’s hard to imagine a rougher topic than pedophilia, perhaps it’s no surprise that the subject comes up more than once in the series.But five times? That’s something.Four films that already showed in the series have touched on, or raised questions, about pedophilia. “Finding Neverland,” the story of “Peter Pan” writer J.M Barrie and his relationship with a single woman and her four young sons, barely even hints at any sexual relation between Barrie and the boys. But the film has been criticized by some for sidestepping that aspect of the true story. “Kinsey,” about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, has also been denounced for depicting a character suspected of pedophilia. (Kinsey was never charged in his lifetime with any sexual crimes against children.)”Birth” stars Nicole Kidman as a woman who comes to believe that a strange 10-year-old boy is the reincarnation of her dead husband. The film features a mildly disturbing scene of Kidman and the boy in a bathtub, and a mildly amusing scene of the boy assuring her he is experienced enough to take care of her needs. And Pedro Almodóvar’s “Bad Education” is a rich, complex story of sexual identity whose roots are traced to the molestation of a young boy by a Catholic priest.Concluding the thematic miniseries is “The Woodsman,” showing tonight. The film stars Kevin Bacon as Walter, a convicted pedophile released from prison and returning to his hometown to resume his life. Bacon has received much praise for his performance, as has director Nicole Kassell for her insightful examination of the issues. “The Woodsman” co-stars Bacon’s real-life wife, Kyra Sedgwick, as Walter’s girlfriend; also co-starring are Benjamin Bratt, David Alan Grier and singers Mos Def and Eve.Aspen Filmfest’s Academy Screenings presents “The Woodsman” at 5:30 p.m., and “The Sea Inside” at 8:15 p.m. today.Academy Screenings continue with multiple daily features through Saturday, Jan. 1. All screenings are at Harris Hall. For a complete schedule, go to http://www.aspenfilm.org.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com