Posted July 6, 2011 by David Watson in Films
 
 

Skin I Live In, The


Pedro Almodovar was robbed! Whether you love

Pedro Almodovar
was robbed!

Whether you love
or hate Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life, his visually
beautiful, slow-as-treacle rumination on life, the Universe and everything, you
can’t help but think it was lucky to win the coveted Palmes d’Or at the 2011
Cannes Film Festival when it was up against Almodovar’s deliriously transgressive psychosexual thriller The Skin I Live In.

Suave, dapper,
driven plastic surgeon and mad scientist Robert (Antonio Banderas) has developed an artificial skin, impervious to
burning, which he tests on beautiful human guinea pig Vera (Elena Anaya) whom he keeps imprisoned in
a room at his country estate, obsessively watching her on CCTV and keeping her
docile with opium. Alone and
isolated, Vera’s days are spent doing yoga, reading and occasionally attempting
suicide, her only human contact with Robert and his fearsome housekeeper
Marilia (Almodovar regular Marisa
Paredes
), who serves her meals by dumbwaiter and regularly urges Robert to
get rid of Vera. When Zeca (Roberto
Alamo
), Marilia’s criminal son who’s
on the run from the cops, turns up at the estate and tries to rape Vera, whom
he recognises as his ex-lover and Robert’s supposedly dead wife (though she has
no memory of him), he sets in motion a violent chain of events as flashbacks
involving a party at which Robert’s mentally fragile daughter was sexually
assaulted (leading to her suicide) reveal just how Vera came to be Robert’s
magnificent obsession…

Described by
Almodovar as “a horror story without screams or frights,” it was almost inevitable
that Pedro Almodovar would eventually get around to making a body-horror movie
that flirts with torture porn.
What’s surprising is just how restrained and classy an affair it is. Long seen as the enfant terrible of
Spanish Cinema, Almodovar’s films over the last decade have shown a maturity
and restraint absent from the joyous insanity of early films like Matador, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! and Labyrinth
Of Passion
but, while its possibly his most technically accomplished,
lushly beautiful film, thematically and spiritually, The Skin I Live In is closer to them than his more recent
arthouse-friendly melodramas like Volver
and Broken Embraces.

A loose
adaptation of French author Thierry
Jonquet
’s novella Tarantula (Mygale)
and bearing a passing resemblance to Matt Eskandari and Michael A. Pierce’s
nasty, brutish little 2010 Victim, The
Skin I Live In
shies away from the graphic violence of the torture-porn
genre, mercifully fading to black during the surgery scenes in Robert’s
basement/operating theatre, and is all the creepier for it. While the plot echoes the perverse
psychology of Hitchcock’s Vertigo and
the imagery draws upon Cronenberg and Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face (no, not the Billy Idol song), the queasy
erotic charge and fluid sexuality of the film are all Almodovar as he works through
his familiar themes of fantasy, betrayal, desire and identity, producing a work
that’s both haunting and meditative, the protagonists both redeemed and damned
by the suffering they endure and inflict upon each other.

Reunited with
Almodovar for the first time in two decades, Banderas is silkily seductive as
the quietly insane modern-day Frankenstein, cruel, controlling, obsessed with
revenge but in love with the beautiful monster he’s created while Anaya is
wonderful as the enigmatic mystery that is Vera, by turns a lithe caged tigress
or a blank slate onto which both Banderas and the audience project their
fantasies.

To say too much
more about the film runs the risk of ruining the mystery that lies at its heart
but it’s easily Almodovar’s best film since Bad Education and possibly his most
playful and wilfully transgressive since his last outing with Banderas 1990’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!. Dark,
disturbing, passionate fun, The Skin I
Live In
is a twisted delight.


David Watson

 
David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com