The Skin I Live In * * * * *

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Director: Pedro Almodovar.
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar, Agustin Almodovar.
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Blanca Suarez.

Any time I approach a film by director Pedro Almodovar, I know straight away that I’ll have to pay attention. He explores difficult and heavy themes but does them with such style and attention to detail that his craftsmanship cannot be ignored. For anyone wondering whether he achieves the same level of quality with this recent effort, then wonder no more. He does and more so.

Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a plastic surgeon who has perfected a new form of artificial skin. The problem with Ledgard though, is that he’s not entirely healthy of mind and as a test subject, he holds Vera (Elena Anaya) captive in his home to conduct his experiments. However, the arrival of a wanted criminal makes an appearance at his home which brings forth the dark history of the doctor and patient and how they came to be in their current situation.

Something that I have always tried to avoid when writing down my thoughts on a film is treading into spoiler territory. This is certainly one of those films that’s difficult to write about without giving away major parts of the plot. Suffice to say, Almodovar himself described the film as “a horror story without screams or frights” that was loosely based on the novel “Tarantula” by French writer Thierry Jonquet and inspired by Georges Franju’s 1960 film “Eyes Without a Face“. It also has an odd David Lynch feel to it, or more to the point, Lynch’s daughter Jennifer and her 1993 movie “Boxing Helena” (much more accomplished than that of course) In different hands this film could have fell into torture porn territory and ended up hitting the straight to DVD slasher shelf but with Almodovar at the helm, it takes on a whole new shape and form. His ability to construct an elaborate narrative cannot be questioned and he commands an audiences attention, while teasingly, revealing the layers to his story. Quite simply, he’s an artist! That statement alone should be enough to simplify this highly creative director’s impressive catalogue. Scenes are shot with such an eye for detailed beauty that you’d be forgiven for being reminded of classical pieces of art as he frames his picture like an expressionist painter. The production design is superb and visually, the film is simply beautiful. The beautiful look isn’t reflected in the material though. This is dark stuff and despite being, both shocking and bizarre, it possesses a sense of humour – all be it, a sick one. Almodovar’s recurrent themes and probing of the human psyche are also explored; masochism, transgender issues and repressed sexuality but ultimately this is a modern, twisted take on the Frankenstein story and one that he imbues with style and creative flair. But nothing is black and white here, he even toys with the morality of the audience in clever use of the Stockholm syndrome in which a hostage begins to identify with and grow sympathetic to their captor. As always with Almodovar though, there are a major plot developments that throw his films off-kilter and take such dramatic turns that they quite near takes your breath away. To reveal any more would be completely irresponsible and wholly unfair of me but rest assured that this is thought provoking filmmaking and a craftsman plying his trade at a very high standard. He’s also aided by superb performances by his leads; Elena Anaya could well be the next Penelope Cruz and it’s great to see Banderas deliver such an intense and brooding character, making you wonder why he and the Spanish auteur have waited 21 years before collaborating again here.

A provocative and macabre near masterpiece from Almodovar. It’s one worthy of attention and arguably his finest film to date.

Mark Walker

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40 Responses to “The Skin I Live In * * * * *”

  1. Great to have you back Mark! This is a big endorsement and I’m going to have to check it out. I’ve pushed this film back multiple times but judging by your review it’s worth seeing. I’m on it.

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    • Thanks Keith. Yeah, I took a wee break man but back at it again now. I put this this film off for a while as well. Not that I wasn’t interested but because Almodovar always demands your attention. I wanted to be ready for it and I was. It’s a brilliant film that’s quite possibly my favourite of his. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to write about without giving too much away. I look forward to your take on it bro.

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  2. I actually had to watch this one twice since my first experience with it was a 9am showing on the final day of TIFF last year…which meant I was wickedly tired and super susceptible to confusion.

    I still liked the heck out of it that first time through, and flat-out loved it on my second watch.

    I easily put this in a pile with Almodovar’s very best.
    Great review!

    Like

    • Cheers Ryan. As much as I took a lot from this first time, I suspect I’ll like it even more on a second sitting. I totally agree with you, it’s one of his very best and great to see Banderas on form too. Why was this ignored come awards season? It’s top quality stuff.

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  3. Very difficult film to approach without giving too much away. Great job on a great film. This one blew me away when I watched it.

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  4. Nice, I really like him but I hadn’t heard of this. Your review is excellent – thanks for the recommendation!

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  5. I wasn’t too sure that the way they told this story was the best way possible for it, but it still kept my interest and had me wondering what was going to happen next with this unpredictable story. Also, Banderas kicks ass and is definitely on the high-road for a comeback. Nice review Mark.

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    • Cheers Dan. I totally agree on Banderas, he’s superb in this an let’s hope it is a revival for him. Another one with Pedro wouldn’t go amiss that’s for sure.
      I’ve heard a few criticisms of this film and it’s extremity or character development but I thought there were far deeper meanings that deserve to be explored. I loved it.

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  6. Look who’s back bloggin’ again, nice to see you back Mark!

    I haven’t seen this one but I’m so curious about it. The subject matter sounds heartbreaking and eerie though. Banderas seems to be on top form here. He’s actually more versatile than most people think, he’s quite funny in Ruby Sparks too. Now that I think of it, he’s quite prolific as well.

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    • Thanks Ruth! I’m glad to be back. I missed the interaction with everyone.

      I really hope you check this one out. I know that the subject matter may be dark but it artistically handled and I wouldn’t say it’s gratuitous. I love Almodovar’s stuff and this is one of his best.

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      • I trust your judgment Mark. I’ll be giving this one a watch. I quite like Banderas but not really familiar w/ Almodovar’s work.

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      • Almodovar’s work is certainly worth looking into Ruth. He deals with very adult themes and although this film contains some sex scenes (one which is a bit graphic but brief) he handles the material very competently and doesn’t resort to cheap shock material. It’s a highly accomplished film.

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  7. thanks mark, you’re glowing review has now turned me from a distantly curious maybe about this, to an “ooooo i must watch this now”. well done and grrrrrreat review!

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  8. Love to be able to say that I shared your enthusiasm! It was a 5/5 for me too and ended up as my second best movie in 2011.

    Tricky to write about though. I went into it blindly, which gave me a great experience. I would actually love to watch it again now that I have a better understanding of what’s happening the first 30 minutes. I was a bit clueless in the beginning…

    Shameless plug:
    https://thevelvetcafe.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/the-skin-i-live-in-not-the-centipede-movie-i-had-feared/

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    • Love to share your enthusiasm also Jessica. Once again we seem to agree. Like yourself, I went into it blind and avoided as much about it as possible. I’m so glad I was able to now. I’d a imagine a rewatch would just improve upon it, if thats even possible.

      I’ll swing by in a bit and check out your always welcome plugs. 😉

      Like

  9. Great review, glad you enjoyed the movie so much! It’s my favorite Almodovar – so eerie, complex and beautifully shot. I love the score – it added so much to the movie. Interesting that you say Anaya could be new Cruz – Cruz waas actually going to play her part, but she got pregnant.

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    • Thanks Sati. I’m looking forward to seeing it again where I’m sure I’ll be able to pick up more but I totally agree with you. After some deliberation, this is my favourite of Almodovar’s also. He’s done so many great film’s but this one captured me the most. In some ways I’m glad Cruz didn’t get the role, as good as she is I thought Anaya was superb. Banderas was also outstanding.

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  10. Fantastic review! One of the best films by one of my personal favorites, Mr. Almodóvar (simply a genius).

    “It also has an odd David Lynch feel to it…In different hands this film could have fell into torture porn territory and ended up hitting the straight to DVD slasher shelf but with Almodovar at the helm, it takes on a whole new shape and form. His ability to construct an elaborate narrative cannot be questioned and he commands an audiences attention, while teasingly, revealing the layers to his story. Quite simply, he’s an artist! That statement alone should be enough to simplify this highly creative director’s impressive catalogue. Scenes are shot with such an eye for detailed beauty that you’d be forgiven for being reminded of classical pieces of art as he frames his picture like an expressionist painter. The production design is superb and visually, the film is simply beautiful.” I wholeheartedly agree.

    Like

  11. Nice write up buddy. A film I heard a lot of buzz about on some big sites but I still haven’t got round to seeing. Love Banderas so will have to get it watched now as you have made this sound great!

    Like

    • Thanks my man. It is great and definitely worth seeking out. If you’re familiar with Almodovar then you’ll know the quality to expect but if you’re not familiar, it’s a good place to start.

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      • To be honest I don’t think I have seen any of his previous work, but the plot to this sounds more like what I go for, so was always very intrigued to catch it. Will have to try get it watched!

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  12. Sam Fragoso Says:

    I haven’t seen a single film from Almodovar. Alas, you have me intrigued Mark.

    Glad to have you back.

    Like

    • Thanks Sam. It’s good to be back.
      You are doing yourself a disservice by not getting into Almodovar man. He’s done some fantastic stuff. Theres no time like the present to remedy that and I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

      Like

  13. I’m interested in seeing this film, and you fine review only reinforces that. Thanks, Mark.

    Like

    • Thanks Michael. I wholly recommended this and and I’d love to hear your extensive take on it. I found it hard to write about it without giving too much away. Almodovar is an artist and no mistake. I hope you get around to it. It’s certainly one of the best film’s of 2011.

      Like

  14. Haven’t seen this one but after reading this I really need to.

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  15. I like your Frankenstein comparison, that isn’t something I thought about when reviewing the film. You did well to avoid spoilers too. I thought the film was excellent and you’re right to call Almodovar an artist. The film also opened my eyes to the delightful Elena Anaya and caused me to rent Room in Rome which was a mistake!

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    • Yeah, definitely a Frankenstein thing going on but very artfully done. I loved this film. It’s so loaded with detail and possibly Almodovar’s finest in my eyes. Thanks for stopping by Tom.

      Like

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