MOVIE REVIEW: The Skin I Live In
Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anya and Jan Cornet
There are no pure surfaces in a Pedro Almodóvar film, just tainted cinematic textures splashed with blood, sweat, and tears. Every pristine composition toes the line between heightened dizziness and restrained menace, creating a beguiling juxtaposition of tones that remains sublime even after we come to expect it. His eccentric characters feel emotions so strongly that love and revenge become religious pilgrimages, personal reckonings that endlessly ripple and contort.
This exaggerated tone stems from Almodóvar’s undying love for melodrama, yet each of his stories subverts genre conventions and illuminates unsettled desires to reconstruct identity and sexuality. Almodóvar’s latest, a sexy deconstruction of the mad scientist/monster film entitled The Skin I Live In, achieves this in spades, exploring the darker corners of the director’s psyche for the first time since 2004’s Bad Education.
World-renowned plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) has an itch he can’t scratch, a devil inside that drives him to create a new type of human skin. His reasons are secret, repressed by the sands of time and guilt. In the private confines of his posh Spanish villa that also doubles as a laboratory, Robert conducts skin experiments on Vera (Elena Anaya), a stunning woman encased in sleek jumpsuit he’s held prisoner for years. Like so many of Almodóvar’s tragic dark comedies, previous events and traumas haunt those trying to start anew.
Robert and Vera’s burgeoning relationship fits this mold, revealing itself to be far more complex than the set-up would suggest. During an extended flashback mid-way through the film, really a brilliant example of how effortlessly Almodóvar drifts through cinematic time and space, Robert and Vera’s shared past begins to seep damning information, sending The Skin I Live In into much darker territory.
If you’re familiar with Almodóvar’s work you probably don’t need the extra impetus to seek out his films theatrically. But for the uninitiated, The Skin I Live In offers an enchanting and diabolical introduction to the Spanish auteur’s special brand of salacious cinema. Aesthetically, Almodóvar is second to none. Consider the way he dulls vibrant primary colors with grainy textures, like in the striking shot of Robert standing in front of a gigantic video monitor staring at Vera’s red lips.
He’s also one of the few directors able to transplant beauty from the most combative compositions. This can be seen in the motif of mirrored images so important to his cinematic language. Early on, Robert stretches out on a couch in front of the same wall monitor watching Vera read a book, her curved body elongated in exactly the opposite direction. Here are two bodies are entrenched in an emotional tango despite being in completely different rooms.
The Skin I Live In might not be Almodóvar’s most complex character study, sometimes jumping headfirst into the lunacy of individual moments without much attention to narrative cohesiveness. But it’s nasty fun all the same. If anything, it offers another chance to appreciate the effortless glee a major film artists takes in mining the more disturbing, colorful, and haunted aspects of human nature.
The Skin I Live In opens on October 21, 2011 at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas.