Sunday, May 6, 2012
Thoughts On The Skin I Live In
It was with some trepidation I approached Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, having previously not warmed to any of the (admittedly few) films of his I had seen. I tried to avoid reading anything about the film prior to seeing the movie, so as to go in with as open a mind as possible. The movie, based on Thierry Jonquet's novel Mygale (English title Tarantula), stars Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya and is, simply put, magnificent.
To the outside world brilliant surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is researching the development of a new tougher, more resilient form of skin to help the victims of terrible burns, in honour of his late wife, who was horrifically burned in a fire. Away from the scientific community, he holds with the help of his maid Marilla (Marisa Paredes), a woman, Vera (Elena Anaya) as a prisoner in his high tech home/research lab. Through a series of flashbacks, the whole story of Ledgard's obsession is slowly unravelled as revelations about each of the characters are dragged out of the darkness.
If the synopsis above feels a little vague, it's because it's next to impossible to discuss the plot of Almodovar's film without revealing the film's myriad of secrets, and please trust me when I say you really do not want them spoiled for you. Hopefully I can get through without any spoilers but I would strongly urge you to see the film as blind as possible. What I can say is that without being overtly graphic, at least in terms of violence, The Skin I Live In is probably the most unsettling and interesting horror films I've seen in a long, long time. The movie's construction, ideas and it's execution are almost breathtaking in their audacity, as layer upon layer is applied to the story and characters before, without the viewer even really noticing, everything falls into place. As a result the film slowly crept up on me, midway through the running time I was really admiring the movie but from a purely technical standpoint. The film is sumptuous in every area of the production but I wasn't connecting with it on any sort of emotional level, it was leaving me cold. However as the film progressed I found myself drawn in deeper and deeper until by the finale, I was completely floored by it.
The acting from the entire cast is excellent and completely in tune with both the material and the richness of the production design. Antonio Banderas delivers a flawless performance, the kind I always suspected he was capable of but have never seen from him before. Elena Ayana is even better lighting up the screen with not only her beauty but her talent by displaying a huge range of emotions without once relying on histrionics. It's a performance full of subtlety, grace and in the end warmth, that is truly staggering.
While many will ignore the fact that Almodovar's film belongs in the horror genre for all the usual snobbish reasons, The Skin I Live In is one of the most potent horror films for many a year. It isn't a film for everyone, it's disturbingly queasy mix of sexuality, obsession and medical procedure may well turn off some viewers but for everyone else it's a thought provoking, horrifying and ultimately tender movie that I urge you to see and one I fully expect to become one of the most important horror films of the decade.