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The Sea Inside

Release date: Dec. 17

Distributor: Fine Line

Described by Variety as an “almost unbearably poignant tour de force about a quadriplegic’s desire to die with dignity,” “The Sea Inside” compensates for its grim subject matter with an artistry that’s more life affirming than somber.

Similar critical endorsements when it opens Dec. 17 should make this film resonate beyond the foreign-language category, for which it has been submitted by Spain.

Already awarded a grand jury prize and an actor laurel for lead Javier Bardem when it premiered at Venice, “Sea Inside” works with a grace and sensitivity that constitute a dramatic change-up for 32-year-old filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar (“Open Your Eyes,” “The Others”), an otherwise bravura stylist with a yen for the fantastical.

“The Sea Inside” is based on the true story of Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 30-year battle with Spanish authorities to end his life, lending even more weight to a drama that is less about right-to-die polemics than the complex emotions Sampedro aroused among loved ones and the public at large.

The last time a top-flight actor tackled the role of a quadriplegic — Daniel Day-Lewis’ cerebral palsy-stricken Christy Brown in 1989’s “My Left Foot” — he won an Oscar. The Academy is already familiar with Bardem, having nominated him for the lead in “Before Night Falls,” another true-life story of a man whose inner strength buoys him through all manner of indignities. In this film, the 35-year-old Bardem plays a 55 year old who’s almost completely incapacitated save for his intellect, humor and resilience.

Supporting performances are strong across the board, most notably Mabel Rivera as Sampedro’s stoic sister-in-law, Lola Duenas as a single mother who falls in love with Sampedro, and Belen Rueda as a lawyer and soul mate who also is suffering from a degenerative disease.

Tech credits are high caliber, with d.p. Javier Aguirresarobe (“The Others,” Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her”) and makeup artist Jo Allen, who fashioned Nicole Kidman’s nose in “The Hours,” exhibiting strong work.

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