Originally created 02/28/05

'The Sea Inside' wins Oscar for best foreign film



LOS ANGELES - "The Sea Inside," the Spanish film based on the true story of a bedridden euthanasia lobbyist, won the Oscar for best foreign film Sunday, beating out a tale of Adolf Hitler's final days, South Africa's first Oscar nominee and two movies about the power of music.

Directed by Alejandro Amenabar, "The Sea Inside" stars Javier Bardem as Ramon Sampedro, the quadriplegic, one-time ship's mechanic who was paralyzed in a diving accident. Sampedro used a pen attached to a wand held in his mouth to write impassioned essays asking to be allowed to end his life.

"This film is based on a man who despite his desire for death spread so much life around him," Amenabar said in accepting the Oscar. "So the first third part of this award goes to him, belongs to him, wherever he is."

Amenabar also dedicated the Oscar, the fourth ever awarded to a Spanish film, to Bardem and the rest of the cast and crew.

"As for me, I'm just so pleased, because it seems I'm in charge of keeping it in one piece for the rest of his life," he said, glancing down at his Oscar.

"The Sea Inside" swept Spain's film academy honors last month. It nabbed Goya Awards in a record 14 of the 15 categories in which it was nominated, including best movie, director, actor and actress.

Sampedro fought a highly publicized but unsuccessful court battle to allow doctor-assisted suicide, which is illegal in Spain, and died in January 1998 after sipping water laced with cyanide.

Told partly in brightly colored flashbacks, "The Sea Inside" also received an Oscar nomination for best makeup. Bardem becomes nearly unrecognizable playing Sampedro in his later years. That award, however, went to "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events."

"The Sea Inside" may have benefited from a relatively early and well-publicized U.S. release. It opened in eight major cities in December and more widely last month, giving Academy voters more time to view it.

A top challenger, which opened in limited release just last week, was Germany's "Downfall," which recounts Hitler's final days in a claustrophobic Berlin bunker.

Some in Germany criticized the film for its humanizing portrait of the Nazi leader, who is seen stroking dogs and chatting amiably with female aides.

Two nominees emphasized music. France's "The Chorus" tells the story of a struggling musician who takes a job at a troubled boys school and works magic through song, while Sweden's "As It Is in Heaven" depicts a talented conductor whose leadership of a small town's church choir shakes up the community.

The other nominee, South Africa's "Yesterday," was the first feature film shot in the Zulu language and the country's first Oscar bid. It profiles a mother's struggle to raise her daughter while facing the poverty and the stigma of AIDS in a traditional society.

Some of the year's most popular and critically acclaimed foreign films didn't get nominations.

Pedro Almodovar's "Bad Education," about a man haunted by an abusive priest from his childhood, was passed over for "The Sea Inside" as Spain's entry.

France's film academy disqualified "A Very Long Engagement" from selection because of its Warner Bros. backing. The American Academy similarly rejected "Maria Full of Grace" as Colombia's entry because it was backed by HBO Films.

And while "The Motorcycle Diaries," won for original song, it was unclear what country could have claimed the tale of the young Che Guevara, because of its international cast and crew. The movie starred Mexico's Gael Garcia Bernal and was filmed across Latin America, directed by Brazilian Walter Salles and produced by Robert Redford.

AP Writer Laura Wides contributed to this report.