Title: Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (2011)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Marisa Paredes
Almodovar’s films have one reigning characteristic that never fails to present itself; they are always enshrouded in mystery. The mystery always unravels at the perfect pace, not too fast, not too slow; just right. By the end of the film, the mystery solved, you are always left there, on the theater seat, with your jaw dropped open. Now you are left to contemplate the feelings of amazement and bewilderment flowing through your brain. You ask yourself: did I just see that story unfold before my eyes? Sorry for the gushing, but I can’t help it, Almodovar has yet to disappoint me with his films. The Skin I Live In was no exception. Such a well told story! So beautifully shot! So well acted and written!
On the Skin I Live In we meet Dr. Robert Ledgard, a man destroyed by tragedy and sadness. You see his wife was horribly burned in a car accident, after which, hating the way she looked, she jumped off a building and committed suicide. In order to forget these past tragedies (and in his wife’s memory) he works feverishly in perfecting a new synthetic skin which can benefit humans in all sorts of ways, like preventing decease and viruses and curing those with burned skinned, like his late wife. He experiments with his new skin on a secret patient he has trapped in his home. Will the scientific community accept his discoveries? And just who is this patient he secretly harbors in his home?
Usually, as a director gets older, his or her films start to loose the quality that made them special in the first place. There’s something about old age that makes some directors “loose it”, which of course is understandable, making films can be an exhausting venture, especially for someone who is well into his or her years. Examples of directors who’ve lost it? Some that come to mind are John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, all masters of horror at one point, now, a shadow of their former selves. But then the reverse can also happen. As a director gets older, he keeps making better and better films. The accumulated knowledge over the years allows them to hone all their skills and produce a classic even though they are old. Improving even though they get older. Kurosawa, Fellini, Scorcese, Spielberg, Cronenberg all directors who made or are still making good films in spite of their old age. Of course we can add Almodovar to that list, as far as I’m concerned, he keeps getting better with time, I’ve yet to watch a film of his I didn’t enjoy in one way or another. Each film a beauty to look at, an experience.
Almodovar (left) getting ready to shoot a scene with Antonio Banderas (right)
The Skin I Live In felt like Almodovar remaking Oldboy (2003), but in his own style and mixed in with his own traditional themes. Almodovar mentions that his original inspiration for writing and directing The Skin I Live In came from a novel he read called ‘Tarantula’, Eyes Without a Face (1960) and also Friz Lang’s old film noirs. But if you ask me, The Skin I Live In had a bit of Oldboy in it, mixed with a little bit of Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and also James Whale’s immortal classic, Frankenstein (1931). Antonio Banderas’s ‘Robert’ comes off as a modern day mad scientist, experimenting with genetics, conducting illegal experiments where he mixes animal cells with human cells. Of course it’s all a lot of scientific bull crap that’s not real, but Almodovar pulls it off. Almodovar tells his tale in a very mysterious manner. He’s always been a director that recognizes that some of the best films have a mystery at their core. The mystery is what pulls you in and makes you keep on watching. He’s used this Hitchcockian technique quite often, but the one I remember it the most in was Bad Education (2004) and Broken Embraces (2009). So expect a film that unfolds rather mysteriously.
There’s something I love about Almodovar’s films and its how he puts us in the middle of a situation, and he lets us think we know what’s really going on. In reality, we couldn’t be further from the truth. As the film unfolds, you realize that what you’d seen before was something totally messed up because you didn’t have the bigger picture. When the film starts, you feel as if you’ve just plunged into this film already in progress. Things are taken for granted and unexplained, until slowly you realize what’s really going on. And then BAM! It hits you. Another thing that characterizes an Almodovar film are the colors, and on this one they jump from the screen as much as they do in all of his films. He revisits old themes, like revenge, lust and rape. This is a very sexual film, but coming from Almodovar, that shouldn’t surprise you. The sex in The Skin I Live In ranges from very sensual to savage and inhuman.
In closing, I’d like to mention that this film has a couple of elements that Almodovar had not worked with yet: science fiction and horror. That’s right my friends, Almodovar has made a film with horror elements. For all intents and purposes, Antonio Banderas is playing the role of a mad scientist; by the way this film is a reunion of sorts, The Skin I Live In is their first collaboration in 20 something years! Last time they worked together was on Almodovar's Women at the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). By the way, Almodovar wrote the film so that Antonio Banderas would star next to Penelope Cruz, but Cruz wasnt available for whatever reason, so instead we get actress Elena Anaya, who looks a heck of a lot like Penelope Cruz, but has her own stunning beauty to amaze us with. The Skin I Live In brought to mind the best revenge films, like the excellent Argentinean thriller The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) which by the way if you haven’t seen I highly recommend you do. Still, at its roots, this is still very, very much an Almodovar film. It has all the elements and themes you’ve come to expect from this masterful director, a director who as far as Im concerned continues to make his films with PASSION.
Rating: 5 out of 5