Published Feb 01, 2005The director of The Others returns with this alternately moving and questionable wade into the euthanasia debate. The subject is the long battle of quadriplegic Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) to legally end his life; despite a generally upbeat attitude (and the virtual nimbus that the filmmakers place around his head), his time is spent preparing the legal fight, writing poetry about his predicament and dealing with family members both supportive and unsupportive.
The argument itself is pretty cogent, with eye-opening refutations of the anti-euthanasia position and some ambiguous interplay between Ramon, a lawyer (Belen Rueda) and a hanger-on/quasi-love interest (Lola Duenas) who's trying to stop him. The film is very gung-ho for Ramon's struggle and Amenabar marshals all of his aesthetic skills to make that struggle as wrenching as possible. But he does his job a little too well.
The film is so shamelessly manipulative in its sweeping camera movements and glycerin-teared movie-star faces that it doesn't give you room to think about the issue. It doesn't trust its argument enough to let you make your own decisions and gives you an emotional enema so that you can't help but rally to the cause.
But though I started to resent the beatific Bardem and his saintly glow, I have to admit the film forced me to think in those few moments that I could gather my thoughts. A hard movie to respect but one that's sure to inspire lively debate. (Alliance Atlantis)