The Skin I Live In

23 Nov

Title: The Skin I Live In
Year: 2011
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar, based on the novel by Thierry Jonquet
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Blanca Suárez, Eduard Fernández
MPAA Rating: R, disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Runtime: 117 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 7.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%

A new Almodóvar film is always reason to celebrate. The guy is one of the best directors living today, and has directed some films that are just sheer wonders to watch unravel before your eyes, each of them charged with his own distinctive style, one that favors really melodramatically-tinged romances at times, using music to the greatest effects, dabbling often in themes of family and self-identity, all of them displayed with one of the greatest eyes for color in modern cinema.

Pedro Almodóvar is a master, and masters of cinema get a lifelong pass from me. I mean, whenever you get a film by someone like Almodóvar, Scorsese, Spielberg, Lynch, Soderbergh, Cronenberg, the Coen’s, Woody, Quentin, Anderson (both Wes and Paul Thomas) or some of the other greats, you have to watch it, even if it doesn’t seem great (which pretty much never happens) you just have to watch it. And hell, even if the film isn’t great you can’t be mad at them, because these master directors have a pass, they have done so many great things already that who cares if what they make next isn’t up to par, you should just be happy that they’re still making them.

So that’s how I approached The Skin I Live In, with respect just because it was coming from Mr. Almodóvar even if it didn’t seem like your classic film of his. And that’s kind of what it was, it was an Almodóvar film, that’s for sure, and it reunited him with Antonio Banderas, an actor who has been at his best (by far) when under the direction of his fellow Spaniard, but all of the stuff I listed above that made an Almodóvar film, while still present here, were combined with all kinds of quite weird and creepy elements, a very unpredictable film from this director, and yet it was still a tremendously great film in my opinion. Sure, it didn’t match the heights of some of his previous efforts, but it was really interesting to see what a director that needs to prove nothing came up with when dabbling into really foreign territories.

For all its faults and strengths (there are much more of the latter, thankfully) The Skin I Live In further proves what we’ve all known, that Mr. Almodóvar is just brilliant. It really takes someone as tremendously talented as him to be able to mix such a wide range of elements without having the film crumble down while he did it. But don’t think that this isn’t an Almodóvar film because of all of the different stuff it tries out, oh no, this one is still full of darkly sexual things, a pretty awesome narrative and a bold style, it’s just way more weird than you would expect from the man.

The character Mr. Banderas plays in this one is Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon with a rather mad side to him that’s played with an awesome intensity by the Spaniard who hasn’t been this good in a really long time. Typically, stories about mad scientists that involve some sort of crazy revenge plot like the one we get here tend to veer towards the campy. And while Mr. Almodóvar is a director who’s certainly comfortable when dabbling in camp, the way he shoots this one and the way Mr. Banderas plays Robert makes you take The Skin I Live In seriously.

Robert’s wife was severely burned and later died after a horrible car accident, which has led Robert, a successful surgeon who specializes in face transplants to kidnap a beautiful woman, Vera, and hold her captive in his mansion in Toledo. She lives in a brightly-lit room, wearing a flesh-colored suit tight around her body, being offered everything she could need, watching TV, practicing yoga, and knowing Robert is watching her from a surveillance camera in her room. He thinks of her as his patient, but in reality she’s more like his prisoner, the subject of a very weird kind of obsession.

What’s great is that Mr. Almodóvar spends no time trying to explain things, there are lots of elements here that remain mysteries to you as you watch it unfold, he just throws you straight into a story that’s already moving at a really fast pace, using those narrative changes the director is so fond of to jump from the present to the past at his will. So because of that it’s kind of hard to get a grasp on The Skin I Live In, but that’s really a great thing here, that sense of unease is what makes this one so damn effective.

There’s a bit of everything here: mystery, melodrama, thriller, horror, slapstick, a revolving door of new twists, questions to be asked and peculiar characters to be introduced to, including a rapist who wears a tiger suit and the faithful house servant every mad scientist must have. And yet there is Mr. Almodóvar who has such a steady hand when controlling this film that it never steers off course, and it’s just really spectacular to watch this film, full of that amazing use of color only he can achieve.

Like I said, masterful directors get a pass from me, I will watch everything they make and even if it’s not great I won’t hold it against them. The Skin I Live In maybe isn’t as great as past Almodóvar films, the characters maybe aren’t as memorable, but it shows a great director tackling very different territories, and he did everything he set out to do with this film, even if those aims weren’t always what I wanted from him. That, and he got an exquisite performance from Mr. Banderas who went really dark here, getting under the skin of Robert and giving us a gripping performance to go with a quite unsettling film.

Grade: A-

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