Not top-tier Almodovar, but he fashions an unsettling, and at times, outlandish treatment on both psychological and gender identities.
Dir. Pedro Almodovar
2011 | Spain | Drama/Mystery | 120 mins | 1.85:1 | Spanish
R21 (passed clean) for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet
Plot: A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.
Awards: Won Award of the Youth, Grand Technical Prize & Nom. for Palme d’Or & Queer Palm (Cannes); Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
International Sales: FilmNation Entertainment
Subject Matter: Mature – Gender, Psychology, Identity
Narrative Style: Complex
Audience Type: General Arthouse
The Skin I Live In may not go down as one of Pedro Almodovar’s top-tier films, but for fans of the filmmaker’s unique brand of psychological art cinema, it surely ranks as one of his most unsettling.
The premise is already chilling: a plastic surgeon, Robert (Antonio Banderas), is obsessed with creating the perfect synthetic skin that resists all manner of damage. He experiments on a mysterious woman who is locked in one of many rooms in his huge mansion.
Bioethics aside, which Robert flouts aplenty, the film may operate like a horror film to some. But while The Skin I Live In is conceptually horrifying, Almodovar’s work functions more like a mystery. Its non-linear narrative is fairly complex and tells us about how the characters come to be in a piece-the-puzzle kind of way.
Some may find the plotting confusing, or perhaps, even scientifically outlandish, but I think Almodovar sees it only as a means to an end. His focus is on identity, particularly that of gender and psychology, two aspects he has been exploring with aplomb throughout his storied career.
“The things the love of a mad man can do.”
Banderas is adequate but not particularly memorable; he’s eclipsed by a bravura performance by Elena Anaya who plays the aforementioned woman.
Needless to say, the tremendously underrated Alberto Iglesias delivers another outstanding score, this time using primarily violins (he really can’t produce bad music even if he tries to).
Although Almodovar has made sexually-explicit films (some notorious) for decades, one might still be taken aback by the amount of female nudity on show, at least in the context of his late-career work.
In many ways, I think this would make a fascinating thematic double-bill with Alex Garland’s breakthrough debut feature, Ex Machina (2014), which if you think about it feels like a futuristic refashioning of Almodovar’s film.