Finding the Story Inside; Alejandro Amenabar: The Spanish Director Who Made Kidman a Star Is Driven Not by Hollywood but by His Own Vision
Smith, Sean, Newsweek International
Byline: Sean Smith
If it weren't for Alejandro Amenabar, Nicole Kidman would not be a movie star. The 32-year-old wrote and directed "The Others," a Gothic ghost story that grossed $210 million worldwide in 2001 and cast Kidman out of the long shadow of her ex-husband Tom Cruise, and into her own light. Even more impressive, "The Others" was a dazzling piece of filmmaking--visually stunning and terrifying, but without the usual crutches of special effects and gore. It was Amenabar's first (and only) English-language film. Hollywood immediately started knocking on his door, offering him every spooky script in the studio vaults, but Amenabar turned them all down. "I understand that Hollywood is a kind of mecca for many directors, but I don't even have an agent in the United States," he says on the phone from his home in Spain. "What pushes me are the stories I want to tell, not really making the trip to Hollywood."
The latest result of that drive is "The Sea Inside," a quiet, powerful drama, based on the real life of Ramon Sampedro, who, paralyzed from the neck down by a diving accident, fought a 30-year-battle in Spain for the right to take his own life. The film, starring Oscar nominee Javier Bardem ("Before Night Falls"), received two Golden Globe nominations (for best actor and best foreign-language film) and could easily earn Oscar nods in the same categories. What's most surprising about it, though, is how stunningly different it is from "The Others"--as well as from Amenabar's earlier films, including the mind-bending thriller "Open Your Eyes," starring Penelope Cruz (and later remade in English as "Vanilla Sky," starring Cruz and Cruise), and his disturbing first feature, "Thesis," about a film student who stumbles upon what seems to be a snuff film. By contrast, "Sea" is gentle, heartfelt and driven by character rather than plot. In fact, each of Amenabar's films is so visually and tonally different, it's hard to believe that the same person directed them all. "What I try to do with each film is to completely change my style, my way of working," he says. "In Hollywood, they often want you to do what you've done before, but it's very personal for me, moviemaking. It's taking a journey, and then wanting to take the audience, to invite them to experience that journey."
Amenabar's personal path to filmmaking has been similarly wayward. …