July 2005  | This Issue

on Film

The Sea Inside  Scene4 Magazine

The Sea Inside
(Mar Adentro)

A Taste of Cherry  Scene4 Magazine

A Taste of Cherry
(Ta'am e guilass)


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The Sea Inside (Mar Adentro)
Directed by: Alejandro Amenábar
Starring: Javier Bardem, Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas
Released: 2004

f the thought that euthanasia can kindle feelings of sorrow, commiseration and even prejudice, "The Sea Inside", the latest film of the gifted filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar is a strong suggestion that this may be the wrong way to look at it. Despite the grittiness and sadness of the subject, Almenabar manages to vividly portray with a philosophical and ironic touch, a true story of a Spanish paraplegic who fought most of his life for his right to die.

The film is original in its way of exploring the world through the eyes of someone who has reached the "the deadly decision" as a result of a lengthy, rational but painful process. Ramón Sampedro, a middle-age Galician paraplegic, refuses to live not because he can't walk, but because he has to "depend on others".

If the theme of the men 's battle against the Spanish government and a bigoted Catholic Church to assert his right to die is briefly hinted, the film narrative develops mainly around central character's personal battle against people emotional blindness, egoism and piety, especially, those who surround him and love him

This is a choral film, with each character bringing in his life story and background. However, they all function to define further the psychological profile of the central character.

Julia (Belén Rueda), a sophisticated lawyer whose passion for his cause is shaped by her own degenerative disease, digs into Ramón's present and past feelings to find the reasons "why". Rosa (Lola Dueñas), with two children and a disastrous history with men, embarks on a mission to "help him". Despite these attempts, Ramón never waivers in his iron decision to die, while his family and friends' determination to save him from his suicidal plan eventually fades.

The story is shaped by a string of conversations that Ramon engages with friends and family gathering around his bed. Powerful and dynamic flashbacks are cleverly used to speed the rhythm. Flying and dynamic memories of a walking Ramon in the countryside, the beaches of the Galician sea and coast twinkle trough out the film, followed by reminiscences of a past youth, permanently shattered by a diving accident, which has transformed him from a burly, vital young man into a motionless body

The Sea Inside  Scene4 Magazine

Ramón eventually succeeds in his battle of implementing a carefully planned suicidal project by winning over to his cause Rosa, the latest piece of a deadly puzzle.

What is great about "The Sea Inside" is the psychological and intellectual stature of the main character, which stops you from feeling sorry for him.   The film is indeed original; Amenabar could have easily fallen into a sentimentalist representation of the painful condition of people that choose euthanasia as an ultimate escape. But to him goes the credit of avoiding such taken-for-granted solutions

It is instead a deep account of the complexity of human relationships and the meaning of life. Characters are finely shaped by the outstanding performances of the actors. Among all, the interpretation of an extraordinary Javier Bardem stands out as he powerfully delivers contrasting emotions by the use of only facial expressions. Manuela, the attentive sister-in-law, played by Mable Rivera, is initially only a marginal character who gradually gains reality through her caring and maternal love for Ramon.

At 32 years old, Alejandro Almenabar has already proven his bravura with "The Others", (staring Nicole Kidman) and "Open your Eyes". He is considered one of the most promising directors in international cinema. The film, cited as the winner of the best foreign film at the 2005 Oscars, and winner of the fist prize at the Festival of Venice (2004) is definitely a film worth seeing.

A Taste of Cherry ( Ta'am e-guilass)
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Released 1997

his multi-prize winning film by Abbas Kiarostami, the critically acclaimed Iranian filmmaker, is a gripping, philosophic reflection of the significance of life and death and human compassion.

Abbas Kiarostami has been heralded as one of the world's greatest living filmmakers and the most internationally celebrated Iranian cultural figure.

During the 1970's, he began to write poetry and take landscape photographs around Iran and then moved to film in the 80s

Abbas Kiarostami  Scene4 MagazineHis prolific work as a filmmaker has produced films such as the multi-award winning Where Is The Friend's House (at the end of the 80s), Close Up (Iran 1990), Life Goes On (Iran 1991) and Through The Olive Trees (Iran-France 1994)

A Taste of Cherry, begins with a hanging camera closely focused on an emotionless middle-aged man, Mr. Badii (Homayoun Ershadi), who drives slowly through the barren and dusty streets of an unknown Iranian city.  He looks around inquisitively as a host of labourers crowd around his car looking for work. He does not seem to be interested in that but suddenly something changes. He begins to question some of these men; 'How much do you earn, do you need money, would you do a job for me,' yet he refuses to explain the nature of the job.

Tension builds up as passers-by walk away suspiciously.

His growing feeling of desolation is exasperated by monochrome scenery of dockyards and quays.

The real reasons of Mr Badii's search are still hidden to the viewer. However, it is clear that he is determined to find something. 

Along the way, he offers a lift to a young Afghani (Safar Ali Moradi), serving the military in Iran.  As they begin to bond through small talks, uneasiness grips the naive soldier. It dawns on him that Mr Badii is driving him away from the city towards the top of the hill at which point he stops at a basin he dug himself, overshadowed by a tree.

At this point he reveals his plan; he wants to commit a suicide. The young Afghani's job would be to make sure that he is not buried alive. His duty would be to come to the suicide spot in the morning and to call him twice "like this" he says "Mr Badii, Mr Badii" and " if I don't reply" he adds, then the soldier will have to throw twenty spades full of earth into the hole and bury him.  The soldier runs away horrified.

The camera keeps shooting a wandering Mr Badii through out sandy A taste of Cherry  Scene4 Magazinecoloured images of canvas. Sand is everywhere as to remind us of his deadly plan and desire to be buried. After another attempt – he had met a seminarian who refused to collaborate for dogmatic reasons - Mr Badii gives a run to an old man (Abdol Hossain Bagheri) . He works as a taxidermist at the natural science museum, providing quails to be studied by students in taxidermy experiments.

It is at this point that the director shows us one of the most emotional parts of the film: the old man tells Badii that once he wanted to commit a suicide too. There was nothing that he felt could have stopped him. One morning the old man walked away from his wife and family with the intention of putting end to his life. He then found himself in a mulberry orchard and as he tasted a cherry everything changed as the taste of the cherry made him realise that life was still worth living.

But he is now willing to accept Mr. Badii's offer as he needs the money to treat his sick young son, though he strongly encourages him to rethink his suicide plan, whatever the reason that pushes him to die. He will be there in the morning as promised although the Kurdish man deeply wishes that at the second call, Mr Badii would answer finally embracing life with all its grittiness, mischievous things but also with the joy that comes from the taste of cherries.

The camera follows Badii him early in the morning on his journey to his burial upon the hill. A close shot of Mr Badii as he lowers himself into the burial hole covered by darkness.

What follows are images of the real actor who comes out of the hole, and lights up a cigarette as if to relieve the tension accumulated by interpreting Badii.  Then a shot of the director himself calling the extras and the troupe of the film to take a rest. 

Kiarostami deliberately offers us a vision of the film within the film to show that what is real is not the story but the interior battle of Badii, suggesting a deeper reflection on the ideological message of the film rather than on the story.  Mr Badii embodies emblematic open questions for which both Western and Islamic society haven't yet provided an answer. Is it fair or unethical ending your own life when everything becomes unbearable? Is it worth to give up the taste of a cherry to end grief and misery

Suicide is not the only subject Kiarostam's film invites us to reflect on. Another topic is at the heart of the narrative. The encounter of Mr Badii with the three men is poignant and metaphoric too; compassion amid human beings. The three men represent human compassion in different grades, shadings and stages: the youth (the soldier), with his inexperience and incapacity to deal with emotions; the adult (the seminarian), when we are often too concerned with social conventions and conform to rules rather than find the truth; and finally old age (the taxidermist), when we have enough wisdom to really connect, empathise and understand ours and other people's pain.

The National Theatre Festival and Victoria Albert Museum of London have recently dedicated a retrospective on Abbas Kiarostami, showing his most poignant films and an installation of photographs of Iranian landscapes.

©2005 Francesca Lombardo
©2005 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Francesca Lombardo was born in Rome where she worked as a stage actress and  journalist  after graduating in History of Theatre.  She moved to London in 1997 to acquire a Master's Degree in journalism. Currently, she lives and works  in London as a journalist.

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