Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Skin I Live In (Almodovar, 2011)

Pedro Almodovar's most recent film has all the hallmarks we've come to expect from him by now - obsession,gender identity, sex and it's consequences. For some, The Skin I Live In will be viewed as a culmination of all the Spanish auteur's cinematic concerns, the film he's been building up to all along, and one which stands tall next to even his finest work. Others will feel he might have gone a tad too far as he verged over the edge and created a film seemingly more suited to the career of body horror veteran David Cronenberg.

The plot must be discussed but like most Almodovar films explaining too much both spoils the film and denies it the justice it deserves.

We follow disgraced plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) as he privately works on a fire resilient synthetic skin. He has a beautiful women named Vera locked in a room in his mansion, a room which Robert voyeuristically watches Vera from a far on camera. As usual Almodovar keeps us positively fixated on the developing story but at a distance as well; his reveals of Robert's past and the build up to this bizarre living arrangement come slowly and steadily but the film never lets up in being thrilling. In some respects it doesn't feel quite like an Almodovar film, the director's usual distinctively warm aesthetic seems off quilter and strangely cold; this is due to the clinical nature of the story, everything is so sterile and perfect on the surface yet like the bandages coming off after an operation we are slowly shown the truth of what lies beneath in this macabre tale of love and revenge.

In Bad Education (2004), Volver (2006) and Broken Embraces (2009) Almodovar's films seemed to be channeling Alfred Hitchcock's brand of cinema more and more and with The Skin I Live In it carries on - most notably in the constant use of piercing violins throughout the film's score. The story is purely gothic with doubles at every corner and can be viewed as a bizarre retelling (and meeting) of both Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Hitchcock's own Vertigo (1958). How so? I'd love to divulge more but that would ruin it so we'll leave it there.

Almodovar's early films made in the 80s were playful but also harboured some satirical notions on Spanish culture and the country's relationship with the church. His move into the 90s had him producing darker more provocative material such as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) which also starred Banderas as a deranged man keeping a women captive and provides the closest link to his most recent outing. After the 90s his films became deeper and more melodramatic showcasing extremely emotional material in films such as Volver. With The Skin I Live In Pedro Almodovar has crafted a film that sits most comfortably with his more deranged material of the 90s but has the heightened drama of his most recent offerings to boot, as well as seeing him out of his comfort zone. It isn't an easy film to endure but then what film of Spain's most loved director truly is? However, it is the film of a master and possibly (and we'll have to see about this) the film he'll be remembered for.

For fans of: Vertigo (1958) Eyes Without a Face (1960) Dead Ringers (1988) Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)

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