Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Skin I Live In Suits Me Just Fine

It may sound like an odd comparison to some but it was hard not to think about Tom Six’s The Human Centipede while watching Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito). This was not because both films deal with surgeon per say, but more to the fact that they both have concepts that are far more chilling in the mind than anything you actually see on screen.

Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula, and set in the year 2012, the film focuses Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a surgeon whose obsession leads him to a place darker than he ever envisioned. After his wife suffers serious burns in a car accident, and eventually dies, Robert is determined to synthesize skin which can withstand burns, mosquito bites and other dangers. Robert has been testing out the new skin on a patient, Vera (Elena Anaya), but questions quickly arise about his methods. Determined to move forward, Robert is willing to risk everything to create the perfect skin. Is Robert’s goal fueled by grief or has he descended into madness?

The Skin I Live In works best if you go into the film not knowing much more about it. If you are familiar with Pedro Almodóvar’s previous films, especially his early works, than The Skin I Live In is not really the dark departure that some would lead you to believe. In many ways it feels like a return to the melodramatic thrillers of some of his earlier films. This is not to say that Almodóvar is merely going through the motions, as he is in fine form with this film.

None of the trademark Pedro Almodóvar themes are left out in the film. There are secrets around paternity, murder, sexuality as power, family tragedy and numerous betrayals. It can be argued that Almodóvar throws too much into the film as the plot is very convoluted. However, part of the charm of The Skin I Live In is how brilliantly Almodóvar makes everything work. There is never a moment that feels wasted, every plot twist, no matter how absurd, ultimately connects with point previously raised. The film is similar to reading a devilishly good pulp novel, it never ceases to surprise or entertain.

As there have been so many years since the days of when they collaborated on films such as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Matador, it was refreshing to see Banderas and Almodóvar working together again. Banderas does a fantastic job of portraying Robert as a man who has been so blinded by his emotions that he never realizes how far across the line he has gone. As with all Almodóvar films, the female cast members steal the show. Elena Anaya is fantastic in the role of Vera, she keeps the audience guessing as to what her true role in Robert’s life is. When revelations occur in the film, Anaya skillfully, and subtly, changes her character’s traits and mannerism to suit. She is the main reason the film never feels like it is going off the rails despite the amount of melodrama. While Anaya is the standout in the film, it would be remiss not to mention the stellar supporting work by Marisa Paredes as Marilia. Despite having dark secrets of her own, Paredes portrays Marilia as if she was Robert’s dark conscious. She clearly sees that certain decisions need to be made before dire consequences occur.

It is tough to truly dissect The Skin I Live In without going into full on spoiler mode. To do this would be a great disservice to the wonderfully disturbing story that Pedro Almodóvar has crafted. As mentioned earlier, the film works best if you know as little as possible going in. While not as gloriously dark as one might expect, this thriller is probably the closet Almodóvar will ever get to a horror film. Regardless, at his melodramatic best, Almodóvar is a director who often cannot be beat and The Skin I Live In is another stellar example. In short, this film is devilishly delicious!


  1. Nice one. The more I think about it, the more I believe I'll put Anaya in my end of year list for Supporting Actress.

  2. Great work C.S. I can't believe Spain didn't enter this as their representative in the Foreign Language race. Granted, I doubt it would have beaten A Separation (which isn't a lock, but will probably win). Still, it's Almodovar - and he has built a warped masterpiece that left me glued to my seat - and wandering home in a morose state following the viewing. Really affecting stuff.

  3. @Colin – I am surprised she is not getting any love on the award circuit; Anaya is such an integral part to the film.

    @Andy – I think A Separation, which I still need to see, will win as well. I find it odd that Spain did not submit the film especially since it has been doing quite well amongst the various critics associations.

  4. I think I may have done I fine job 'preparing' to watch this movie, as I never watch any movie from Almodóvar and I tried not to read the movie's reviews. It is wonderfully disturbing as you say. Great review!

  5. @Andina – I highly recommend checking out Almodóvar’s previous films as well. The majority of his films are fantastic, even the weaker films in his canon are interesting on some level.

  6. Phips2:39 pm

    I finally got around to watching this.
    Man this movie is twisted but its really well done.

    Going into it I kinda knew the plot from trailers which give a little bit more away than you did here but still, I found myself struggling to figure out how what I was watching would turn into what I thought I knew. Man, it was a bit of a shock. While the actual twist didnt surprise me, the way it presented itself throughout the film did.

    Banderas was great but, I agree, Elena stole the film. She was very strong throughout.

    Lastly, this movie is messed up. ;)

  7. @Phips - Looking back on it afterwards, the twist was indeed obvious but they way it was executed completely had me fooled. Even after the film ended I was questioning where certain characters go from there. How does on cope after such a life altering experience? As twisted as the film was, I am really eager to watch it again.


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