The Skin I Live In

12 Sep

Director: Pedro Almodóvar (2011)

It was a strange experience watching an Almodovar film that wasn’t punctuated by frequent down-cleavage shots of Penelope ‘Boobs’ Cruz. But almost like a tag team, Penelope Cruz is out and Antonio Banderas is back in, after a 21 year separation since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Banderas and Almodovar are back together, and from the performance he gives, boy is he glad to be back. As is the beautiful Elena Anaya, another of Almodovar’s favourites, last working together in Hable con ella, playing the mysterious captive protagonist.

Based on a Thierry Jonquet’s novella “Tarantula”, The Skin I Live In introduces us into the eerie world of plastic surgery, one where the fear goes beyond scalpel slicing to the psychological implications of changing ones skin. Set in future Toledo, Robert Legard (Antonio Banderas) is a renowned plastic surgeon, living in a beautiful, huge house with his housekeeper who seems to be able to tolerate Legard’s mysterious projects, in particular the lycra clad woman he keeps in a room upstairs. But when her fugitive son turns up at the door demanding a new face, things start to take a turn for the worst, and we are gradually shown the ugly – and terrifying – face of plastic surgery.

From this point on, the film veers into gothic territory, graciously shying away from gore and brutal depictions of surgery in favour of timely fades and transitions before revealing the results. While the mystery surrounding Legard’s ‘projects’ is undoubtedly disconcerting, there is an underlying humanism as we learn about his deceased wife who exploded in a car crash leading him to develop a new flame (and mosquito) retardant skin. However this fact in no way excuses him and his ‘mad scientist’ ways. It is difficult to elaborate on the details of the plot as if I were to reveal anything more than the fact that he is a slightly mad plastic surgeon with a mysterious lady in a jumpsuit upstairs, would risk ruining the film. In true Almodovar style, the film takes so many twists and turns that it is frankly impossible to predict where the film is going to take us in the finale. And you will not be disappointed. Or able to sleep, not through fear, but mainly because Almodovar will have unearthed so many moralistic debates in your mind you will not be able to turn it off.

Challenging and uncomfortable as we’ve come to expect from Almodovar, but impossible to look away from, Almodovar once again forces us to confront the themes and thoughts society has told us to ignore. The title itself is at once a literal description but also the first person ‘I’ again forces us to apply the implications to ourselves, looking at who we see ourselves as when we look in the mirror, but not just in the physical but in what lies beneath the skin…we live in.  Investing more in mood and atmosphere than action, this is a gentle, slow film, perhaps evoking the body’s convalescence itself, brutally broken down and gradually built up to the final reveal. The Skin I Live In sees Almodovar return to the screen in style in what can only be described as a moralistic horror story. And is guaranteed to make watching Banderas in Puss In Boots even more disturbing.

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One Response to “The Skin I Live In”

  1. Bonjour Tristesse October 1, 2011 at 6:51 am #

    Great review, I just saw this one today and it’s going to be stuck in my head for some time, and Elena is well on her way to becoming the next Penelope Cruz.

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