If you go to the cinema to be entertained, amused, so as to fill up your time, do not go out of your way to watch this film.
If you go to the cinema to appreciate the depths of human-kind, the feelings of real people, to explore the characteriology of personalities, if you go to the cinema to absorb magnificent photography, be sure to put this film very high on your list, preferably in first place. The experience is profoundly rewarding, causing the intelligent viewer to make diverse reflexions over the meaning of life itself. With 'Mar Adentro' Alejandro Amenábar has surpassed the best he has done to date, and even redeemed certain deviations in his earlier films which smacked a little of being aimed at Hollywood. This is not the case with this visual poem put to music: Hollywood could never get anywhere near the effect of this tinglingly inspired human - and humane - story.
In no way should one interpret 'Mar Adentro' as an apologia for euthanasia; this story, based on the real life of the Galician fisherman Ramón Sampedro, is a cry from the bottom of the heart for life and love, a reaching out for human compassion, for understanding emotions. Sampedro was an articulate and intelligent man who after a diving accident off the rocks of the Galician coast as a young man was condemned to live the next 27 years in bed. 'Condenado a vivir' (2001) (TV) was the first version of this man's life on which I have already commented. However, Amenábar has succeeded remarkably at portraying this man, with his permanent enigmatic smile and witty sense of humour, in an equally articulate and intelligent way.
And Javier Bardem rose to the occasion, met the challenge head-on, complete with a Galician accent, producing an electrifying, compelling, enthralling performance, such that the actor and the fisherman become fused into being the same person on screen. Here, indeed, is an occasion to doff your cap, and softly mutter 'chapeau'. Bardem is driven on in his task by a magnificent cast, especially Belén Rueda, Lola Dueñas, Mabel Rivera, Celso Bugallo (Los Lunes al Sol) (qv) and Clara Segura, Galician and Catalan accents taking prominent part.
Amenábar produces wonderful dialogues as these six rotate among themselves one-on-one, or in groups, with excellent chemistry, thus demonstrating that this young Chilean-born Spanish director is an artist who knows what he is at and how to get his results; his global concept of the film includes his own music, interspersed with pieces by Beethoven and Puccini on Sampedro's record-player.
Whilst viewing 'Mar Adentro', I found myself a couple of times comparing him and this film with Stephen Daldry and his masterpiece 'The Hours' (qv). I refer to the way in which the dialogues work with tenseness and passion and that careful sense of timing in each scene.
Javier Aguirresarobe's photography is superb as usual. As I have mentioned elsewhere on IMDb, he does not simply film the events and scenes - he captures even the feelings and the atmosphere of the moment, deftly catches that look in the eyes, light and shadows, such that his work behind the camera is at once another player in the story. A superb artist.
'Mar Adentro' is another landmark in the history of Spanish cinematography, among the best five or six works of art produced here in the last 25 years. This film places itself alongside such cinematographic art as 'El Sur' (qv), 'Los Santos Inocentes' (qv), 'El Abuelo' (qv), 'La Lengua de las Mariposas' (qv), 'Las Ratas' (qv), 'A Los Que Aman' (qv), and I think I must add 'Te Doy Mis Ojos' (qv).
Superbly orchestrated story of a real man, and those who loved him around his bedside: not to be missed.