Friday, December 30, 2011

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)

By s. Friday, December 30, 2011 , , , , , , , , ,
94/100 (117 min, 2011)
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.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writers: Pedro Almodóvar (screenplay), Agustín Almodóvar (collaboration), Thierry Jonquet (novel "Tarantula")
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet

The Great Redesign

Pedro Almodovar is one of the most distinctive directors working today - all of his movies touch deeply humane subject, are filled with fiery passion, warm colors and many complications between character. "The Skin I Live" is along with "Todo sobre mi madre" and "Carne Tremula" the movie of his I enjoyed the most. Based on shocking novel "Tarantula" Almodovar tells deeply moving story, filled with many twists, turns and mysteries. "The Skin I Live in" is also the best film noir of the year.

From the beginning we are thrown into a strange world occupied by older housekeeper, beautiful woman living in locked room and a driven scientist. With every minute there are more and more pieces of puzzles being revealed to us - the young woman is suicidal, the housekeeper has dangerous son who seemed to have an affair with the scientist's wife and the man himself, Robert Ledgard is determined to create strong, nearly indestructible skin and he is fascinated with the young woman in his captivity, Vera, whom he watches on huge TV screen, secretly desiring her, against his will.

The movie posses great questions through locating its characters in impossible situations - how much loss can one take? What would someone do for their child? If everything is changed in our appearance are we the same person we were before? I admire Almodovar for not blatantly using a great twist in the story - when you do something like this everyone keeps talking about the twist, not the movie. Almodovar hints the twist at least twice before we actually see it happen, so when it happens it doesn't come as such a huge shock. He chooses more difficult path and because of this we are more able to focus on the complex and disturbingly fascinating characters.

The film shows, although not us cruelly and profoundly as the book, very radical and memorable revenge. But even the person who is the seemingly villain didn't do that much wrong - a lot in the movie circles around rape and while in the book it is indisputable that this occurred, in the movie there are many circumstances which create a lot of doubt when it comes to apparent attacker.In the book the means of revenge seem awful but called for, in the movie we aren't sure. The person is basically being punished because of the further outcome of the action and not the action alone.
There is plenty of symbolism in the movie - the puppets Vera makes out of nearly nothing, show how easy it is to shape new identity. The garden of pleasures Robert sees during the wedding party implies highly erotic motivation of all of the characters - all that happened to Robert and to Vera happened because of the overwhelming desire, that in this story, always leads to great tragedy. When a person succumbs to the destruction of fleeting urge, they will have to pay a horrible price. Yet Robert never learns from his mistakes and makes them over and over again which makes it almost impossible for him to avoid his own doom.

Ledgard calls his synthetic skin 'Gal' after his wife. The name is short for Galatea, who in Roman Mythology was a statue made by the gifted sculptor Pygmalion. The statue was so perfect that Pygmalion fell in love with his own creation and Venus granted his wish to bring her to life. Based on this myth and the story it is apparent that Ledgard is slave to his desire - he can't forget his wife and using his skills, he will do everything to bring her back, no matter how much he crosses the line of professional ethics and morality.
The cast, especially Antonia Banderas does amazing hob portraying difficult people - they are not  likable, not one of them. But we feel for them, because we are shown what happened to them. None of these people had easy life - their children, spouses, urges - it all caused them great suffering. Banderas is wonderful at playing seemingly mad scientist, crippled by loss and determined to making sure nothing like this will ever happen to him. Anaya is simply stunning and something about her dreamy gaze posses nearly childlike quality - we feel for Vera precisely because of Anaya's ability to channel such innocence into her character.

The cinematography is stunning, as always in Almodovar's movies and the music by Alberto Iglesias is without a doubt, the most impressive soundtrack of the year - the passionate, mad violins are unforgettable and add so much fire to the picture. The recurring motive summarizes everything that happens in the movie - the desire, the tragedy, the obsession. It's really the best kind of cinematic music.
"The Skin I live in" tells dark story, but it never feels cold - it beams with strong emotions, from beginning to the very end. It is thought-provoking and deeply engaging picture, one that's impossible to shake off. Everything that is shown to us is essential to the story and to meticulous character development. It's definitely not a movie for everyone, but channelling a bit of horror which brings "Eyes Without a Face" to mind and being deeply rooted in Almodovar's style, it is a truly unique movie, that is definetly worth watching - and savoring every delicious minute of it.


  1. Great review, I'm glad you enjoyed this movie as much as I did. I too drew comparisons to "Eyes Without a Face," and I completely agree that it is the best noir of the year. It may indeed be my favorite Almodovar.

  2. Yes, it did pose some thought-provoking issues, the more I think and read about the film, the higher it moves up my year-end list. The soundtrack, as you say, was great, Between The Bars is my fav track.
    Surprised me how suspenseful the movie is, I was expecting something else.

    Reminded me of The Face of Another (1966), which is included on my top 10 classic films discovered in 2011 list.