(2011) director Pedro Almodóvar
viewed: 12/17/2011 at Regal Gainesville 14, Gainesville, FL
The latest film from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, The Skin I Live In, is a great film. If you think you might be interested in it, I say, read no further and go see it.
If you hazard to read forward, I will spoil some of the plot twists which will diminish your potential enjoyment, so just go see the damn movie and if you’re still interested in what I have to say about it, come back and read what goes below.
I find it a little hard to talk about the film without disclosing some of its plot twists and I feel lucky that despite having read about the film, much of those twists were intact for me, which allowed for me to have the narrative work its magic, for the film to unveil its objects.
From the film poster alone, the movie seems to invoke Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960). And like Eyes Without a Face, the film starts with a doctor/scientist who is grafting skin onto a damaged woman to restore her beauty. In fact, as the film begins, that mad doctor, played by Antonio Banderas, is working on a new synthetic skin, impervious to flame and his beautiful concubine, played by Elena Anaya, wears a strange flesh-colored body suit, suggesting that she’s had more than her face worked upon. Bio-engineering is one thing, but what Banderas’s mad doctor has on the table is something much more extreme and not at all altruistic.
From the decor of his home, images of female beauty and idealized femininity abound. Banderas has a giant television screen on which he can view his captive beauty as if framed by a master. It’s not just surface beauty that interests Almodóvar. As the mystery of who the captive woman is evolves, the melodramatic narrative of sex and violence and betrayal booms to life. I won’t spell out the whole of the story (there is a lot there), but what comes out is that this is a story of revenge, emasculation, total control, and obsession. The surface beauties that were pondered earlier are revealed to be entirely misleading. This beautiful woman, crafted to resemble in great detail, the doctor’s late wife, is really the rapist of the doctor’s daughter who has undergone an unwilling sex change operation.
Whatever ideas the audience holds about the beautiful captive who is a human guinea pig for the doctor’s experiments with artificial skin, the truth is more complicated and surprising than could be imagined. Identity is revealed, but identity is also more complicated than the surfaces suggest.
I don’t know if it’s a masterpiece, but it’s a damn good film. Evocative of other classic thrillers, this film is pure Almodóvar, one of the best film-makers working and one who continues to expand the breadth and depth of his work.