Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin ...
Rating: R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Length: 120 minutes
Released: October 14, 2011 NY/LA
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Corne, Roberto Álam
Director: Thierry Jonquet, Éditions Gallimar, Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóva
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar,
Pedro Almodovar is one of the few filmmakers with the ability to infuse the screen with his own consciousness, and to see "The Skin I Live In" is to enter into his nightmare. Like a nightmare, the film has many recognizable strains and sources, and yet the arrangement of the material, the obsessions and the points of emphasis are entirely individual.
It is the nightmare of someone steeped in cinema. "Vertigo," "Eyes Without a Face," "Rebecca," "Frankenstein" and every mad doctor movie ever made including "The Island of Lost Souls" are mixed into this movie's DNA. They're not referenced — references are too easy, orderly and too rational for what we see here. Rather they are all part of the air.
At its center is Antonio Banderas, showing much more command and presence than he ever does in his American movies, as a surgeon who specializes in facial restoration. Early in the film, with an unsettling combination of coldness and conviction, he announces that he has perfected a synthetic skin that will revolutionize the treatment of burn victims. But the skin is not really synthetic — it's a chromosonological amalgam of human and pig skin, an entirely unethical creation.
Banderas' good looks and our knowledge of him as Zorro might easily distract us at the beginning from realizing that he is a mad scientist. But the hints are there in the set decoration of the doctor's mansion: Everywhere are large reproductions of famous paintings from all eras, all with one thing in common: They are nudes showing vast expanses of skin.
Another fat hint, a big fat hint, that the good doctor might be out of his mind is that he is holding a woman captive in his home. Vera (Elena Anaya) wears a flesh-colored body suit and lives in a locked room, either the beneficiary or the victim of the doctor's skin experiments. One thing we do know, from the doctor's spooky housekeeper (Marisa Paredes): He has given Vera the face of his dead wife.
As for the rest, today is not the day to reveal plot details that, as a matter of course, would have to be revealed in any serious discussion. But this much can be said: The movie's arresting quality — the strange hold of it — derives from the tension between what Almodovar thinks about the relationship of the doctor and Vera, and how he feels about it. Intellectually, Almodovar is horrified. But emotionally, he understands it. He is even seduced by it and, in turn, he seduces his audience. It's that specific conflict that takes "The Skin I Live In" out of the realm of simple horror and gives it the complexity of greatness.
Or almost greatness. In adapting the novel that served as the film's source (Thierry Jonquet's "Tarantula"), Almodovar had to jump back in time and then forward again, and that juggling act is the one graceless note in an otherwise graceful film.
Actually, "The Skin I Live In" is more than graceful. It's eerily graceful. It's practically unperturbed.