Director: Pedro Almodóvar (Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Volver, Broken Emraces)
Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 117 min.
Pedro Almodóvar clearly has issues. These issues have been evident for many many years and have shown their fantastic colors in film after film in a career spanning almost 40 years. But as far as I know, from the films of his I’ve seen, these issues have never been as dark and twisted as the ones depicted in La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In). And quite honestly, never has one of his films captivated me so intensely.
The story is dark twisted and, pardon my French, but really fucked up once you realize what it is you’re witnessing. Antonio Banderas plays a wealthy surgeon/researcher in Spain who seems hell bent on creating a sort of synthetic skin that is highly resistant to all manner of trauma: burns, bug bites, cuts, etc. This passion is realized through transgenics and thereby looked down upon by the scientific community. But Dr. Ledgard (Banderas) continues his research secretly in his secluded mansion outside of Madrid with a “patient” he keeps locked in a hidden room. Unfortunate events have transpired to female family members in his past and have left Dr. Ledgard alone and withdrawn. And these events somehow appear to tie in with his captive. Knowing more about the plot would slight your experience with The Skin I Live In, so it’s best to just say that throughout the movie, plot points are slowly peeled back and we’re able to see a bigger and bigger picture of what is truly happening. The results are strangely sickening and deplorable, but at the same time sad and compelling.
I’m not quite willing to go out on a limb far enough to say that this is Almodóvar’s best film, but while the darkness of the film still washes over me 12 hours later, I’m inclined to say it’s my favorite. The structure of the timeline bugged me at first, but once again, as the story wears on, it becomes clear that this is the best way to tear into the dark matter and let the audience’s eyes slowly open to the mystery at hand.
Banderas has not appeared in an Almodóvar picture in almost twenty years and like many of Pedro’s muses, seems to be at the top of his game in the comfort of his native language. His character is darkly rich and full of subtle mystery and inner turmoil. I haven’t seen him in such a fantastic space since I can’t remember when. Playing alongside Banderas is an absolutely stunning Elena Anaya as the doctor’s captive. Sort of a Spanish cross between Audrey Tautou and Natalie Portman, it seems Almodóvar may have found his next Penélope Cruz. I don’t think it’s an accident that Anaya’s character name in the film is Cruz. Anaya is not exactly a newcomer, but after this picture, I fully expect her to become much more visible in the Hollywood sector.
Next to the characters and playing just as integral of a part in the film is Almodóvar’s signature style. The idea that he would begin to become almost a parody of himself (ala Zhang Yimou’s work with Curse of the Golden Flower) has been a recent worry and he came dangerously close with 2009′s Broken Embraces but with The Skin I Live In, nothing could be further from the truth. Almodóvar’s unmistakable auteur color palette and visuals are here, but it’s restrained enough to keep within the confines of the tone of the film. He’s introduced a quite murkier world filled with vibrant grays, whites and blacks to compliment his signature primary color motif.
While some creepy undertones exist, mostly just in terms of concept, The Skin I Live In is not what one would call a straight up horror film. Rather, it’s a psychological thriller told with the voice of a writer/director who has perfected himself with flaws and personal internal struggles (seemingly at least). The story is dark and twisted and goes places few would want to travel – which is why it works so fantastically well as a film. I honestly can’t think of a flaw within the film and I loved it; including the very perfect ending.