This release of 2005's foreign-language Academy Award winner has almost an embarrassment of extras: first, a meticulous backstage documentary covering every detail of casting, planning, set design, cinematography, and especially the makeup that turned 35-year-old Javier Bardem into 55-year-old Ramón Sampedro, the iconic Spanish poet and tireless petitioner for assisted suicide. Then there's multifaceted director/ co-writer/editor/composer Alejandro Amenábar's feature commentary, which even he suggests is redundant. (And perhaps contractual?) It's OK; with material this rich and a filmmaker this eloquent, there can almost not be enough detail.
Audiences who might not have appreciated the range of Bardem's accomplishment may be brought up short seeing the five to six hours of makeup he went through before each day of work: bedridden, with his back held in an aching, arched position, his face his only canvas. (Even his voice was "tortured" into Sampedro's Galician dialect, spoken with a short lung span.) Bardem's genius makes his omission in the Hollywood-centrism of the 2005 Best Actor nominations even more of a mortification. (Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland? Lovely, but doing what?)
Considering Amenábar's early films (Open Your Eyes, The Others), it's fascinating to hear him say that his dreams play a part in his planning: that the great erotic rush as Sea's camera (taking Sampedro's fantasy perspective) flies out the window and swoops over the countryside to the sea came to him in his sleep.
Amenábar's risks are equally rich: playing Julia, a composite of the women in Sampedro's life, the glowing Belén Rueda is well known as a Spanish television host and actress. Fighting his producer, Amenábar felt that "She brought light with her, and everything she says rings true," and he's right. Amenábar also decided to keep the true details of Sampedro's death, using what Sampedro called "rat poison, the death of an animal." Yet, with Julia's epilogue, a voice is given to both sides, so that the film remains evenhanded—or as much so as Bardem's power allows.
JULY 5 BRINGS the fun Bollywood-Austen adaptation Bride & Prejudice to disc, along with Dear Frankie. Dakota Fanning gets all creepy in Hide and Seek, co-starring Robert "I'll do anything" De Niro. The long, long delayed Prozac Nation (with Christina Ricci) finally skulks onto DVD. Better, Warner Bros. is reissuing five old noir titles including The Narrow Margin.