The factual story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 28 year campaign in favour of euthanasia and his own right to die.The factual story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 28 year campaign in favour of euthanasia and his own right to die.The factual story of Spaniard Ramon Sampedro, who fought a 28 year campaign in favour of euthanasia and his own right to die.
With the award-winning Canadian movie, "The Barbarian Invasions," folks got to see a family along with a coterie of devoted friends address the wish of a beloved albeit irascible man to end his life. In that movie, the center of attention suffered from progressive, incurable cancer and his descent into a terminal stage was fast. Emotional as the scenes were, death was inevitable - the question was how gentle could it be made through solicited intervention.
Ramon Sampedro (brilliantly played by Javier Bardem) is a different story. For well over two decades he's been a quadriplegic because of a diving accident. (Very sharp viewers may detect a terrible irony as to why he ended in that condition because of his improvident dive.) Once a world traveler and lover of beautiful women, he now lies trapped in an immobile body, his every need attended to by a truly devoted family who willingly surrender much of their privacy and time to sustain their beloved relation.
Rosa (Lola Duenas), a single mom of two small boys, enters the Sampedro household out of what might have been mere curiosity to learn about the paralyzed man's plight but she becomes both an emotionally supportive centerpiece for Ramon as well as an amusing but occasionally aggravating presence. A nice performance by Duenas.
The problem, of course, is that Sampedro isn't sick in the normal sense. He may well live for decades more with proper care. So his softly but persistently voiced desire to end his life with "dignity" creates a moral dilemma for friends and relatives who, not surprisingly, react from different ethical and religious perspectives.
Ramon is the poster quad of a group dedicated to changing Spain's laws concerning assisted suicide. "Death with Dignity" is their watchword. Gene (Clara Segura) is a sensitive activist who enlists the aid of pro bono publico counsel, Julia (Belen Rueda). Julia has her own health issues which carry an indefinite but catastrophic prognosis. Happily married to a devoted spouse, she bonds emotionally with her client.
What follows is an acutely sensitive interplay of values and emotions. Ramon lives with his brother and wife, their technophile teenage son, not the intellectual Ramon is, and his aged dad who can't stop grieving over his son's cataclysmic descent into absolute helplessness.
The moral and legal issues are played out through excellent acting and short vignettes including a courtroom scene in which formalism triumphs over any judicial interpretation that might take into account Ramon's feelings and views. It may be Spain but the issues are alive in most countries, including the U.S.
Especially amusing is a shouted, first floor to bedroom, debate between Ramon with a drop-in, lecturing Jesuit priest, also a quadriplegic but one whose hidebound dogma casually masks the absence of a soul.
Special kudos to Mabel Rivera, Ramon's sister-in-law-Manuela, for a wrenchingly authentic portrayal of a strong woman who holds the family together. And the same compliment fulsomely extends to Belen Rueda, Julia, who segues from objective advocate to close friend to a woman hurtling towards a dark fate.
The director imposes no value judgments allowing each character full range to express his or her feelings effectively and, at times, movingly. Like "Dead Man Walking," this movie can support any view about its deadly subject.
No one can stop a person from committing suicide if he/she is determined but the universal tragedy of the world's Ramons is that without assistance, life in a body in which only the heart beats and only the head can move is a sentence no court could pronounce on the most depraved of criminals.
The cinematography is well-matched to the story and the beautiful Galician scenes are an intended contrast to the limited views the once globe-trotting Ramon experiences from his special bed.
- Dec 20, 2004