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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Skin I Live In" is, like most films by the Spanish director a film
that cannot be pitched or explained in a few sentences. I am reminded
of his superb work in "Talk to her" and "All about my mother". "Talk to
her" was a love story between a woman in a coma and her rapist while
Mother was a film about a nun with AIDS, a transvestite with a hearth
of gold and a woman searching for her son's heart. In one sentence
Almodovar's films all sound twisted at best. But in the hands of a
master they are beautiful works of art. Same goes for "The Skin I Live
In". In a sentence (like many who haven't watched the film are quick to
point out) the film sounds creepy at best and deals with a plot that
makes most uncomfortable.
A plastic surgeon (Banderas) belongs to family straight out of Pasolini's Salo. He keeps a beautiful woman (Anaya) as a guinea pig and he tries to create a new kind of skin. But Anaya's character, in what seems the major metaphor of the film, preserves her inner persona intact regardless of what happens to her body. As in most of Almodovar's films the layers become more complex as the movie evolves and towards the end of the film there's a plot twist only Freud could have come up with.
Without spoilers I would like to point out that the director seems to use horror as a channel to explore the violation of every moral code embodied by the characters. With a magnificent score by Alberto Iglesias, Almodovar tries for a difficult genre and it pays off. The set design and cinematography, as always with Pedro's films is superb. At Canes the reception of the film was mixed an I can understand why. It simply isn't an easy movie to watch. For those who don't seem to have a problem with American horror movies where teens are stalked, raped and cut into little pieces by a chainsaw but are horrified by "The Skin I live In" I have a suggestion: Let's remember that fiction is indeed the only place when one can deal with horror and gore as metaphors for our human flaws, a place where we don't have to hide from our demons but we get to talk to them, a place where sickness gets no one hurt... Like Hitchcock used to say: It is only a movie, dear.
As a longtime fan of Pedro Almodovar's films, I will admit the trailer
for his latest film The Skin I Live In left me somewhat baffled. Having
now seen the film however, I see the method in his madness. The trailer
tells you little or nothing about the film but bombards the viewer with
crazy images which are in retrospect probably designed to confuse. The
trailer serves the purpose of telling the viewer very little of what
the film is about while titillating with striking visuals. A bold move
but an effective one, because the less you know about this film going
in the better.
With that in mind, I'll keep this review short and will try not to give anything away. Antonio Banderas plays a rather unhinged scientist who is keeping a beautiful young woman prisoner in his home while using her as a human guinea pig for a new type of synthetic human skin. That's about as much information as you need. As the story unfolds, petal by petal in that flower-like way we've become accustomed to seeing from Almodovar, each scene adds wonder and flavour to an already robust set-up. Moving at a break-neck pace, not a frame is without beauty and not a second is wasted without pushing the story along. This screenplay is extremely polished and beautifully nuanced.
As usual, cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine delivers beautifully vibrant visuals, but unlike other Almodovar films, this palette is decidedly less colourful, sticking mainly to Cronenbergian metallic colours fused with fleshy tones but with the odd gash of vibrant colour. It is as beautiful to behold as any other Almodovar film, but perhaps less garish.
In a film that relies on ambiguity in so many ways the cast here must be commended. Delicate balances are achieved by all concerned and it's wonderful to see Antonio Banderas settling into the rather unsettling role of Dr. Robert Ledgard. He exudes the same charisma and sexual bravura that made him famous but without the least whiff of sex symbol status coming through in the performance. He is creepy, strangely alluring and underplays the "mad scientist" bit admirably. Elena Anayas also impresses in a very challenging performance both physically and emotionally, both of which are perfectly effective as her story unfolds. A brilliant character who may not have been so impressive in the hands of a less capable actress. The camera intimately caresses her face and body throughout and she steadfastly rises to the challenge of being as beautiful a muse as a director could ask for.
It is unlikely that Almodovar will win over any new fans with The Skin I Live In but he will surely satisfy his already massive fanbase. A dark, thoughtful, frightening piece but never shying away from the heights of melodrama that Almodovar is known for, this sits beautifully on the line between Cronenberg at his best and a crazy soap opera.
Unique, Gothic and delightfully melodramatic! I love it!
Pedro Almodovar is not a conventional filmmaker by any means. His films
openly explore subjects many acclaimed directors fear to tread and
absorb in their whole entire careers, but what is always guaranteed
with Almodovar is a sense of wonderment and the unexpected, and 'The
Skin I Live In' ('La piel que habito') is no different. Based briefly
on Thierry Jonquet's 2003 novel 'Mygale,' Almodovar's latest film is a
delightful and refreshing combination of multiple genres including
drama, thriller and body horror. It's shockingly sincere, beautifully
horrifying and has an appeal that will keep the audiences eyes locked
towards the events on-screen until the final credits roll.
Dr Robert Lesgard (Antonio Banderas) is a renowned surgeon who is attempting to achieve a breakthrough in bio-medical sciences by creating a synthetic skin through transgenisis. Classified as a horrific mutation by some, and acknowledged by Robert as an innovation, his experiments come at a price. His human test subject is a beautiful woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) who is contained within his home, and cared for by his head servant Marilia (Marisa Paredes). Vera is not like other women, she wears a skin-coloured suit made out of fabric instead of clothes, she is constantly watched by Robert and Marilia, and she never leaves her room, which only Robert himself holds the key too. What follows is a startling journey of discovery as the narrative unravels a story of disturbing past, present and future events; transforming the lives of all those involved.
Beginning in Toldeo in 2012, Almodovar utilizes a constantly underused and under-appreciated device in the nonlinear narrative. He provides the audience with one perception of each character before returning in flashback during the second act to six years previously where further events are explained and through this, the audience's initial observations of the characters become undermined and drastically altered. He then digresses between past and present at will building a comprehensive picture of each character involved as the story develops revealing some startling and disturbing discoveries. This decision to structure the film in this way, also adequately supplements Almodovar's need to explore his key themes including sexual identity, and the nature of the moral of ethics of the human soul after it has been literally stripped bare.
Coupled with the beautiful cinematography from Almodovar's long-time collaborator Jose Luis Alcaine and an original and complimentary score by Alberto Iglesias, 'The Skin I Live In' also becomes an example of technically proficient filmmaking which works alongside the performances of the likes of Banderas and Anaya, as well as the slickly written script which keeps the audience on their toes until the final curtain has been dropped. Pedro Almodovar is undoubtedly one of the most successful auteurs of the last few decades, and with 'The Skin I Live In' he shows that he can almost touch upon a new genre, in the form of body horror genre-hybrid, whilst also retaining all the previous elements, themes and techniques which have made his films the deep-seated critically successful films that they are.
A fascinating and powerful departure for Almodovar, or perhaps more
accurately more an terrific hybrid of the best of his old and new. This
has the darker, more actively perversely disturbing and violent themes
of some of his early work like 'Matador' but shot and directed with the
far smoother and more mature hand he has developed over the years. It
also uses the more complex and fractured time structure style of
Almodovar's more recent work, to great effect.
In the end its a gorgeous looking, philosophically complex mystery and horror film. Although not gory, this is a disturbing work, both on a literal story level, and also for the questions it raises about identity, love, sado-masochism, and passion run amok.
These themes are all Almodovar touchstones, but delivered here with a visually stunning icy touch, and with much more complete logic than in his early works, which often felt less fully thought through, and had more frustrating plot holes and character leaps.
Not a 'scary' film, but a creepy, moody and highly effective one. A dark fairy tale as told by, say Stanley Kubrick.
It's good to see Antonio Banderas reunited with Almodovar, and he delivers a wonderfully complex and quirky modern day Dr. Frankenstein.
Less emotional than my two very favorite Almodovar films (Talk to Her, All About My Mother), but its exciting to see this extremely talented film maker continue to evolve and grow, and I think this represents work that can stand among his best.
Pedro Almodovar has created a daring and entirely unique masterpiece, a
word that I do not use lightly or often. The Skin I Live In has a lot
that of aspects that feel very Almodovar, but there's also a lot of
Cronenberg here as well, and with the latter being my favorite director
it's no surprise that I fell in love with it quickly. The film is a
startling, wild study into a world of obsession, revenge and the
complexities of the human flesh. Almodovar has really outdone himself
here, crafting a tale of wicked intensity and rarely met eccentricity.
The structure here is one of it's more interesting aspects and yet another film this year that isn't told in a strictly linear fashion. We first meet Doctor Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) in the present day, as he works tirelessly on perfecting a new skin for his subject, the young and beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya). Almodovar establishes us in this present day world, complete with a very Almodovar subplot (a man in a tiger suit comes to the house and brings some trouble) and a lot of baggage for Ledgard. We get to know these people, become intrigued by what brought them to their current state and that we jump back six years to explore this character further.
It's a surprising jump and I must admit that it got me off guard at first, but as we spend more and more time in the past building up to the present I slowly came to terms with what Almodovar was doing. He gave us a stake in the present day world so that when he took us into the past it becomes about more than just laying out the facts. We already have a perception on Ledgard and a curiosity into understanding the events that bring him to where we met him, so the film becomes as much of a fascinating game of putting these puzzle pieces together as it is a character study and all-around masterwork of high drama.
Slowly the pieces start to come together and I found myself constantly trying to figure out what happened in this world, how these events in the past connect to the present day we were introduced to. When we finally get our answer...stunned...amazed...jaw-unhinged...none of these words can even begin to describe what happened to my mind. This is a twist that doesn't exist for shock value by any means but absolutely sent me to the floor, one of the most shocking and unexpected moves in cinema history as far as I'm concerned. It threw me for a major loop and everything I had come to perceive about these characters and their world was altered in an instant. Everything became a thousand times more fascinating and complex with the use of one simple word.
As I said before, this is a piece of the most miraculous and bold high-drama, a world where anything is possible but nothing feels out of place. That is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the film itself, that Almodovar gives us a story filled to the brim with melodrama but none of it feels contrived or too weird or too much. Everything feels totally natural and believable in the world that Almodovar establishes for us. His ability to make this happen is nothing short of extraordinary. Of course he doesn't do it alone and there are a lot of other aspects to the film that contribute to making it work on every conceivable level, to bring us into this incredible world.
Of course there are the performances, which are just a dream on their own. I've never been a fan of Antonio Banderas and I've honestly been hesitant to watch films just based on his involvement, but he delivers something here that I never knew he was capable of. Ledgard is an incredibly difficult character to pull off because our perception of him changes drastically throughout the film, but Banderas masters it without a single hitch. There was never a false move, never a moment where I didn't believe this character was capable of doing what he was doing. He is charming, intelligent, deranged and intimidating, unfolding layer after layer as we go on. It's a remarkable achievement in both character and performance. The other performances work very well to support Banderas and Almodovar's work here, particularly from the absolutely gorgeous Elena Anaya. She is all things sympathetic, manic, intriguing and sensual and when we come back to the present day after understanding what brought her to this place, she takes on a whole new life of internal chaos and complexity. For all of her outward expression it becomes a very internal performance and she is sensational here.
The technical aspects are all on key, all of them impressing without taking the spotlight away from the story, but the one thing that really left a mark was the phenomenal score. If it wasn't for Hanna, this score would be a runaway victory for my personal win right now. Rarely have I seen music so well-utilized for the atmosphere a director strives to establish. The high-wire drama meets it's ally with this music, a soaring operatic work that brings us into this world so completely. It swept me away and completely engulfed me in this world that Almodovar established. The score is a perfect fit for the film because it captures exactly what the overall product is; a brilliant and original opera of miraculous proportions. This is one of those films that I wasn't expecting a lot from and it just blew me away at every level.
In his latest film Almodóvar takes a qualitative jump into new
philosophical depths. His usual reflections on the nature of
relationships and the consequence of one's actions take on a well-
defined shape and advance forward with self-assurance.
The order in which the events of the story are told is a cunning device that allows the director to make us reflect on how superficially - indeed, skin-deep - we perceive reality and how quick we are to judge first impressions and jump to conclusions. What we first perceive one way, those initial scenes that slightly baffle us but which we nevertheless do not hesitate to judge in a specific way, take on a completely new meaning when the story pauses to take us back into the past in order to tell us about an important series of events that happened at the time which bear a direct relation to present events. The new light that is shed on the present changes completely our perception of the story as we had first witnessed it, which is a humbling experience. We are then taken back again to the present and continue watching the rest of the film, but with this completely new understanding of the real underlying motivations for the characters' actions. It is at this point that through a slight thriller-style twist in the plot the story takes on a Shakespearean dimension as it delivers its powerful humanist lesson that vengeance begets vengeance.
Food for thought, in fact enough food to last you days and feed other people, as you are left on the one hand wondering at the concept of skin: what we actually desire when we desire someone, whether all desire is skin-deep, whether the skin does not allow us to see the person behind. And on the other hand you are left with the reflection on how the road of vengeance leads only to self-destruction. When a film leaves you pondering so deeply, I can only conclude it is a great film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've never seen a Pedro Almodovar film before. I had been wanting to
see this ever since I saw its premise. Very interesting, but it still
surpassed my expectations.
The film is unpredictable in it's pace. You never know what to expect next. It is hugely intriguing because of this. You can sense deeper and darker secrets are at the core of it all, but you don't know what. It becomes even more mysterious once it jumps back six years in time. There was a shot that convinced me what was really going on. It was a shot that mirrored two characters... well, that's all I am going to say. But when I saw that shot, I was convinced of what was going on underneath, and I was right. That doesn't mean it was predictable... not at all. Despite being sure of what was the twist, the film was still able to surprise me again and again.
I want to take note that this really wouldn't be an easy film to pull off. In fact, on the surface, it's quite soapy, and on the hands of someone else, could have easily turned into a full-blown melodrama. It didn't and I am very glad of that. The icy cinematography and direction brilliantly keep us enthralled in a world in which anything is possible. It feels like science-fiction and horror blended with real grounded drama. I also want to take note of the performances. Being Mexican and having been raised of full-Mexican parents, I knew who Banderas was, but I never knew he could act this well. He never makes his character easy to figure out, and there's always a sense of empathy that we have with him, but should we? Who is the victim here? Elena Anaya is the star though. She has incredibly expressive and emotional eyes, and from the start we sense something underneath her. This is an incredible performance, one of the best supporting performances of the year. The ending was sort of abrupt though.
All in all, I loved this film. Completely intriguing, hugely entertaining, very mysterious and gleefully thrilling without becoming a melodrama and feels very mature. Oh, and did I mention that the music score is fantastic!
The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito, 2:00, R) other: drama, 3rd
Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar has a just reputation for taking women seriously in his films. His latest effort (as usual in Spanish with English subtitles) is no exception, even tho he gives most of the screen time to his most accomplished discovery and frequent star, Antonio Banderas (seemingly one of the few Hispanic actors whom Americans will tolerate in a lead role), playing the brilliant and innovative plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard. This is a deadly serious role, in marked contrast to Banderas's other current star turn as the voice of Puss in Boots.
The female lead, Elena Anaya, plays Vera Cruz (yes), Ledgard's stunningly gorgeous patient, experimental subject, apparent captive, and well, here Almodóvar (who co-wrote the screenplay with brother Agustín) gets a bit coy. Is she a manikin, an Eliza Doolittle to Ledgard's Henry Higgins, a Sabina Spielrein to his Carl Jung, possibly a creature to his Frankenstein? Or maybe none of the above? We know only that she seems devoted to him, tho he is unresponsive to her charms.
Vera is confined to the big bedroom, elegantly furnished, where she does her yoga exercises dressed in a flesh-colored body stocking. Ledgard has the only key to the room, and he always keeps her locked in. He himself stays in the smaller bedroom next door, where he watches her intently on a wall-sized video screen. All her food and other needs are delivered from the kitchen via a dumbwaiter, and she communicates with only 2 people: Robert in person, and the housekeeper via intercom.
Ledgard is a widower, and we see in flashback that his wife Gal suffered a terrible car accident and fire, leaving her horribly disfigured even after Robert's virtuoso surgical work and devoted care. But even after all his efforts, Gal is unable to stand her pain, weakness, and ugliness, and she commits suicide. Unfortunately, it's right in front of their tweenage dotter Norma (Blanca Suárez), who is driven into hysterics and a nervous breakdown by the sight.
Ledgard, as one of the world's leading reconstructive surgeons, does not lack for cash, so he devotes the next several years to his twin obsessions, coaxing his dotter back from the precipice of madness and developing a graftable artificial skin, which he somewhat ghoulishly dubs Gal, a combination of human and pig genes that's highly resistant to burns, cuts, and punctures. Such an epidermis would have saved his beloved wife, he reasons, and this alone justifies his transgressing the ethical boundaries against transgenics. (This is the only science-fictional element in the film, and it's not much of a stretch from what modern medicine is actually capable of doing, which is why I categorize it as essentially a psychodrama.)
There are 3 other characters of note: Ledgard's housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes), an older woman with secrets of her own; her wastrel son Zeca (Roberto Álamo), who pays an unwelcome visit; and studly young Vicente (Jan Cornet), son of and apprentice to the local dressmaker, who takes a shine to now-teenage Norma as she shyly tries to work her way back into normal society.
We learn most of the above during the first half hour, which leaves us wondering just what on Earth is going on here. The remainder of the film slowly pulls aside one curtain after another to fill us in. And that is all I will say on the subject. You'll have to see the rest for yourself.
And you should.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pedro Almodovar's much lauded "The Skin I Live In" was for me yet
another disappointment from the "Spanish Master".
Almodovar has served up the usual glossy pot pourri of themes, e.g. gender issues, twisted sex, dysfunctional families. Playing the art house game to perfection he has remembered to include critic friendly references and quotations from other film makers. This time the soap opera has a horror twist but Almodovar brings nothing new to the genre.
Unfortunately for me the sum of the parts in Almodovar's films never adds up to a consistent or organic whole. Is the film about Antonio Banderas seeking to re-create his dead wife? Well that narrative thread quickly dissipates once Almodovar has used that idea to deliver a shock cut of his burnt wife. Is it about his obsession with "the skin" itself? The fetishised series of images - wet clothes, transparent gloves, genetically modified textures etc - would seem to suggest so. Yet this thread leads to nothing more than a series of self consciously "arty" images that, whilst superficially attractive, head into a cul de sac and simply vanish. Instead Antonio Banderas character then shifts to an obsession with avenging the apparent rape of his daughter by punishing the "rapist". Is the convoluted way in which this is resolved an attempt at taboo breaking and gender distortion or is it just another tired attempt by Almodovar to shock a jaded audience. The character played by Banderas, whether he is supposed to be driven by science, the need to re-create his wife, the need to create a universal family or the need for vengeance, comes across as being somewhat tepid and a bit dull.
The dysfunctional family theme - featuring a preposterous gallery of the unfaithful dead wife, suicidal rape victim daughter, secret mother, rapist brother, who also had an affair with the wife develops by layering one absurd piece of nonsense on top of another. Almodovar having self indulgent fun as the provocateur, trying to push buttons but creating nothing of value and telling us nothing of any significance about real relationships. The character of the brother in particular, is served up just to add a bit of shock/horror and to provide Almodovar with another excuse to disrobe and mistreat the poor Ms Anaya. The character of the brother is the worst sort of kitsch confection that adds no layers of understanding to Banderas's character's psychology. As for the "shock twist" ending regarding the identity of Banderas's creation, that was obvious and telegraphed at least 20 minutes before it was supposed to have been revealed.
I dislike Almodovar's treatment of women. I have no idea why he is spoken of as someone who creates excellent and challenging roles for women because more often than not the lead female character in his films are clichéd and a cipher for his distorted view of the relationship between a man and a woman, not a subject that Almodovar has much real life experience of. The women in Almodovar films seem to have to conform to the Latin Catholic stereotype and are usually either whores or mothers. In addition many of the women are victims and, quite frequently the victims of rape. Yet this is an experience that in Almodovar's films they miraculously dispense with as if they are recovering from a heavy cold or an inconvenient headache. Almodovar's treatment of women is the bitter and twisted aftertaste that always sours his intentions for me. The brash, pop-art visuals can't completely hide a deep seated darkness in Almodovars' psyche.
As ego boosting references for the broadsheet critics we get visual "homages" to films such as "Tristana", "Les Yeux Sans Visage" and "Clockwork Orange" which by comparison only serve to remind us just how unfocused Almodovar's work is and in the case of directors like Bunuel, show just how tepid the supposed taboo busting of Almodovar really is.
On the positive side I thought the soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias was excellent and Elena Anaya was a wonderfully ethereal presence in a confused role that asked her to do little more than look wide eyed and expose her T&A.
This film, like Almodovar's work in general, is overrated. The positive reputation that his work enjoys remains a source of considerable confusion to me. I believe that there is a standard reflex critical response to Almodovar's films that is based on a misrepresentation of his work. Until Almodovar demonstrates an ability to actually produce intelligent and cogent films with ideas and themes that are rigorously developed, and not simply thrown against the wall to create a rainbow concoction of colours and "ideas" that some people misinterpret as art, then his films will always remain ultimately exploitative and rather pointless cartoons.
Only a true genius can make one film after another and somehow manage
to shock and awe the audience each and every time with his unique
talent to transform the deepest darkest subjects of fantasies we could
possibly imagine into not only art but into sheer beauty and a total
If you want to see a provocative beautifully directed film that keeps you guessing while glued to the seat then this a film for you. If you are a narrow minded prude then you probably will get nightmares from watching this.
I can never get enough of Almodovar's films, they are as addictive as they are unique.
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