Monday, January 16, 2012

Film Review: The Skin I Live In

For his eighteenth film, the modern day, melodramatic, maypole dancing Hitchcock-in-drag Spanish moviemaker Pedro Almodóvar, has sent forth the closest thing the auteur has ever come to a true blue horror movie.  With nods to the Master's Vertigo, Franju's Eyes Without A Face (obviously) and, according to the director himself, Tom Six's Human Centipede, this somewhat loose adaptation of Thierry Jonquet's novel Tarantula, is a modern day look at loneliness, betrayal and sexual identity in the guise of a psychological thriller, all with a quirky spin all Almodóvar's own.  The director himself calls the film, "a horror story without screams or frights," but there are frights nonetheless.

The film tells the labyrinthine tale of a man obsessed and the young woman who may be more than meets the eye.  Antonio Banderas, in the actor's first film with his once regular collaborator in twenty-one years, plays a plastic surgeon who, much like Pierre Brasseur's Dr. Genessier in Eyes Without A Face, has become so obsessed with bringing back someone he has lost, that he begins to play God, blurring any line that had once been put in place as an ethics barrier.  We first meet Banderas' charmingly mad Dr. Ledgard ("The things the love of a mad man can do.") as he is watching, on a giant screen surveillance monitor next to his bed nonetheless, a woman that we soon find out is being held as a prisoner in the not-so-good doctor's home.  Vera, a stunning young woman dressed in a neck to toe body suit who wiles the long days away doing yoga, writing on the walls and creating strange dolls, is Dr. Ledgard's prisoner.  The mad scientist's own little experimental baby doll.

Played by the beautiful Elena Anaya (another Almodovar regular, Penelope Cruz, had to back out due to scheduling conflicts), Vera quickly becomes an enigma.  Is she falling for her captor?  Is she plotting another escape attempt?  Is any of this real?  But then Almodovar's entire film is an enigma - even by Almodovar standards, which are pretty lax on the whole subject of linear moviemaking in the first place.  Flashing back to six years earlier and the rape of Ledgard's own daughter and the doctor's kidnapping of yet another person, his daughter's rapist, the story begins to have more twists and turns than even the twistiest of the great Hitchcock, Almodovar's own obsession.  Add in a strange and dangerous man dressed as a tiger ("El tigre que realmente me mal estado."), a dutiful housekeeper/mother hen played by another Almodovar regular, Marisa Paredes, and some rather strange medical implements, and you have one giddily bizarro motion picture.  To say any more would demolish the waking dream of Almodovar's film, so I will let it go at that. 


Anonymous said...

Combines enough that’s genre-friendly and accessible with the trademark style of a truly unique and “artsy” filmmaker. Great performance from Banderas as well. Good review Kevyn.

Kevyn Knox said...


One of Almodovar's best and most satisfying works.

Banderas has grown from Latin lover to the kind of sophisticated and mature actor that can pull off this kind of role. He has become an actor that is much better than he is normally given credit for - though that respect is beginning to come around now.

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