Review: Almodovar's 'The Skin I Live In'

Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya as surgeon and patient in Pedro Almodovar's new film. Submitted photo.

The Skin I Live In (R) showtimes

First things first. Don't read any

other reviews of Pedro Almodovar's The

Skin I Live In

. I've checked out about a dozen today and most of them tip

you off to things you shouldn't know. I avoided press releases and reviews

before seeing the movie and that worked out well for me. The early part of the

film was odd and intriguing. The middle section was odd and confusing - I

wondered whether all of the scenes would add up to something or whether some

were mere digressions. The final part of the film royally messed up my head.

During the closing credits I was still reeling. So freaky. So disquieting. So


I'm not going to lay out the plot - I'll just tell you what

is shown in the first few minutes: Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is an

intense plastic surgeon developing an artificial skin resistant to burns and

insect bites. Tough skin. In Ledgard's compound in the town of Toledo in Spain,

he monitors a woman named Vera (Elena Anaya), who wears only a flesh-colored

bodystocking and behaves like a trapped animal. Vera appears to be Ledgard's

patient and prisoner. The doctor is assisted in his daily tasks by his loyal

housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes).

Forget the romance you associate with Almodovar films. He's

going someplace else this time, presenting dark, bizarre events in a

matter-of-fact fashion. Sure, he's done that before, but this film gets darker

and goes further out there than usual.

The classic James Whale film version of Frankenstein presented the creature sympathetically in spots, but

primarily as a menace. Almodovar's film, based loosely on the story "Mygale" by

Thierry Jonquet, takes time to study what it's like to be the subject of an

obsessive surgeon's attention (no spoilers - I'm still working off the basic

set-up). Here, the horror is in the process.

Men do bad things in the film. One justifies his actions.

Another wallows in his. One is so stoned he doesn't even know he did anything

wrong. The women in the film are acutely aware of their suffering, but hesitant

or unable to change their situations. Neither the patient nor the doctor reveal

their inner selves verbally. Almodovar does it instead with his unblinking

camera and it feels invasive. One more thing to make you squirm.

There is so much I want to say about this movie, but I

can't. Frustrating. What can I safely mention?

Two of the female characters do so much acting with their eyes that I

was reminded of silent films - their expressions flirt with camp, but their

grim circumstances mute the humor.

Alberto Iglesias' score is a beaut - listen to him effectively

build tension with organs and trumpets. Incidentally, the singer in the party

scene with the braided hair and the gap in her teeth is Concha Buika. Check her

out on YouTube

; she's a stylish vocalist and possesses a distinctive beauty.

The Skin I Live In

is more stimulating intellectually than emotionally, in part due to the walls

(the figurative ones) around key characters, but Almodovar stirs your feelings

in other ways. Freaky, distancing, melodramatic, straightforward, nonlinear,

disturbing - this is his best movie in years.


Recommended for you