The Sea Inside - Spanglish - British film industry
Whose life is it anyway, asks The Sea Inside? If a previously physically active man was to suffer an accident that rendered him permanently bedridden, his purview of the world limited to what he can see through the farmhouse window, reliant on family for basic support, would it be selfish of him to decide to take his own life? Is it only god who should decide when we die? These are some of the questions that come to mind when viewing this poignant and powerful drama by Alejandro Amenabar (director of The Others).
The Sea Inside is based on the real-life story of Spanish writer and quadriplegic Ramon Sampedro. We catch his story after he's spent many years drawing up a legal petition for euthanasia and incurring the wrath of the Catholic church. A spiky, truculent Javier Bardem puts in a sterling performance that fully engages our empathy and keeps sentimentality at bay. Trapped in his body, Ramon dreams of transcending his state and in a bravura sequence he soars, in his mind's eye, across the countryside in a moment that is truly sublime.
Though he is bedridden, three women are involved in his life. Which one of them will show their true love and administer the fatal dose? Will it be the supportive lawyer, the needy, cheery, recently divorced neighbour, or will his sister in law finally relent? The 'impossible' romances initially seem gratuitous but the director's assured touch soon puts one at ease. Intelligently discursive, moving and deeply compassionate with standout performances.
Spanglish is one of those movies that has divided critics in America. How can director Adam Brooks have the gall to discuss the cultural clashes between the marginal communities of Mexicans and the wealthy Californians? Even more so, why must he talk about their class differences and make the Americans the bad or sad guys?
A Mexican single mother, Flor (Paz Vega), and her pre-teen daughter Christina (Shelbie Bruce) escape poverty and enter the US illegally. Flor gains work as a housekeeper in an affluent household. She doesn't speak a word of English, so what she says is interpreted by her daughter, which results in some of the funniest exchanges in the film. Flor ends up working for a neurotic, self-obsessive, newly redundant designer, Deborah (played too much in a sitcom style by Tea Leoni), and her laid back celebrity chef husband John (Adam Sandler). Deborah is the type of mum who will buy her overweight daughter clothes one size too small so she can be motivated to lose weight. She seizes on bright Christina as the daughter she wished she had, buying her clothes, finding her new friends and even getting her into a snotty private school.
Christina, who has been narrating this from five years later in a flashback, is utterly seduced but will she become a middle class brat teen? A clash of wills between Flor and Deborah becomes a conflict about class and cultural identity. What is on trial here is a paternalistic liberalism, the right that wealthy Deborah assumes to impose on the 'help' what she feels is best for her employee's daughter. With mordant humour and Brooks's usual flair for quirky comic characters, Spanglish teases and probes its subject to delightful quietly subversive effect.
The British industry has always lurched from crisis to crisis. The latest woe that makes producers cry into their cappuccinos is the withdrawal of the tax break (Section 48) for studios or consortiums of fat cats from the city. On the one hand, the government's agencies encourage film-makers to pursue co-productions with private capital - for only the private can be the true seal of approval for a project. Then on the other hand, they react with horror when dodgy accountants try to exploit the situation to the hilt. There is an alternative to a situation whereby film-makers get upset that the rich aren't given bigger tax breaks, and that's to fund the industry with greater assistance from the public purse. You can bet that won't get into the manifestos of the mainstream parties.