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The Skin I Live In (2011,Spain)

27/08/2011

Director: Pedro Almodovar    Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes

There are some films that need to be seen, preferably free from preconceptions and sometimes even with the sparsest knowledge of how the plot will unfurl. The Skin I Live In is such a film. If you haven’t seen it yet then I urge you not to read further than this paragraph and get yourself to the next available showing. It doesn’t matter if you are an Almodovar fan or not (this is one of his most accessible films to date although it retains most of the things that typify his work), it is a wonderful film, moody, slightly twisted, darkly funny in places but most importantly patient and cautious with its secrets. Don’t read the book, don’t read any reviews, don’t ask anyone what it’s about until you have seen it for yourself.  Seriously. I mean it. The less you know about it, the more you will enjoy the experience of viewing it. If you do want to know a little bit more feel free to read on, I certainly don’t intend to include any spoilers here, but don’t blame me if you feel that by discussing some of the aspects of the film here I have in some way taken the edge off it because after all, I told you so.

Fans of Almodovar’s work will be all too familiar with his various trademark elements. Dysfunctional mother/son relationships. Even more dysfunctional and somewhat unconventional sexual relationships. Tar black humour. All these things are present here, wrapped up in the visually rich photography of veteran Spanish cinematographer José Luis Alcaine. If anything it is the faintly sci-fi leanings of the plot to The Skin I Live In that sets it apart from the more conventional (if you could ever suggest anything about Almodovar films was ever conventional) relationship based dramas normally associated with the Spanish director.

Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a gifted and driven plastic surgeon who is developing a synthetic skin to allow burn victims to have their appearance perfectly restored. Vera (Anaya) is the mysterious young woman who spends her days locked in the recovery room at Robert’s isolated clinic as he sets about growing her a new skin using his controversial new process. From the outset there are plainly a great many secrets lurking in the lives of these two characters and as the film unfolds these are unlocked, bit by bit, slowly filling in the blanks of the tale.

There is little to criticise about this film. The performances are excellent, not just from the leads but from the supporting cast too. Banderas is tremendous as the brooding, driven Robert bringing a sinister intensity to the expert surgeon. Anaya is simply stunning as the bewildered Vera, struggling to reconcile her predicament. I’m not sure what method they have used (I suspect it’s simply down to a combination of Elena Anaya’s natural beauty, excellent make up and strategic lighting) but the filmmakers have really captured a luminescent, almost artificial appearance to Vera, her artifical skin appearing as a thing of flawless beauty. It’s positively captivating.

Describing this as a sci-fi movie is probably pushing the definition slightly, it’s fantastical leanings not really leaning that far beyond the possible and certainly maintaining a sense of plausability. I would say there is as much justification to describe it as a psychological horror or maybe even Cronenbergian body horror, dealing as it does with the manipulation of the flesh. Even then though, this would be misleading. Despite these forays beyond the borders of his previous body of work, Almodovar has still chosen first and foremost to make a film about relationships and about people and the ripple effect we have on each other with our feelings and actions.

Vastly superior to 2009’s somewhat by-the-numbers Broken Embraces and maybe even better than Volver, The Skin I Live In feels like the Hollywood level film I’ve been waiting for from Almodovar. Beautiful photography and editing, amazing production design and clearly high production values all combine with the typically high quality performances and story I’ve come to expect from the Spanish auteur resulting in a truly excellent piece of work.

Incidentally, I have consciously chosen not to include the trailer here as the less you carry into the cinema with you before you see it, the better.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 27/08/2011 23:13

    Hmm, remind’s me of Hiroshi Teshigahara The Face of Another (1966) which is a darn good film as well… I can’t wait until this gets a wider release!

  2. 27/08/2011 23:14

    * reminds

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