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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 18.18%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 4.55%

2 reviews, 10 user ratings

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Skin I Live In, The
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by Jay Seaver

"A grotesque beauty of a film."
5 stars

Pedro Almodovar has been dancing around doing this sort of weird sci-fi/horror movie for years (remember the silent movie sequence in "Talk to Her"?), and in a way he's still dancing - "The Skin I Live In" is so grounded in the here and now and focused on the psychological as opposed to the technological that art-house denizens who run screaming from mere "genre" can convince themselves that they're not sharing their genius with their grindhouse cousins. Their loss; the way Almodovar imports those genre elements into his world is part of what makes the movie so delicious.

We start with scientist Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a brilliant surgeon and researcher presenting a paper on the potential for synthetic skin to a conference - a topic near to his heart after his wife was horrifically burned in a car accident years ago. His colleagues are so alarmed by the ethical problems of his proposal that he assures them that it is only theoretical - and then goes home to see how the most recent graft is taking to Vera (Elena Anaya), the test subject he is keeping so isolated that she kept locked in a room in his estate, with Robert and longtime family servant Marilla (Marisa Paredes) mostly speaking to her via TV screens. And as we come to know more about Robert's complicated obsession, it becomes very clear that this set-up is not merely the result of fears of contamination.

The Skin I Live In at times seems to have more ideas in play than it knows what to do with - in fact, my impression was often of two similar screenplays not quite fully merged into one - and in the hands of a lesser director than Almodovar, it likely would have been a trite mess (I don't know how many threads are Almodovar's own and how many come from the source novel, Thierry Jonquet's Tarantula). There are thoroughly extraneous bits of soap opera, on the one hand, while Robert and Vera seem to have two different experiments and plotlines going on that are close to being at cross-purposes. Almodovar strives to make this into complexity rather than contradiction, and manages it about half the time.

Just by doing that much, though, he and Banderas have made Robert Ledgard one of the greatest mad scientists in cinema history. "Mad scientist" is a term that conjures images of pulps and simplistic comics, a simple way to create a villain who is both superhumanly capable and evil, but Ledgard is what you get when you try to make the concept work in real life: A researcher driven to make the world a better place and a psychopath craving the destruction of those he believes to be enemies. Usually, these urges are portrayed as opposing impulses, to be weighed against each other; here, they are completely intertwined. In the plot, creation is destruction, and vice versa; similarly, while Antonio Banderas digs into the arrogance and cruelty of his character with gusto, he also works an almost naďve romanticism in as well. It's a fascinatingly multifaceted character and performance, likely better than anything Banderas has done in English over the past two decades.

Opposite him, the lovely Elena Anaya is portraying a different but equally fascinating character - where Robert Ledgard is a tangle of conflicting urges and reactions, Vera Cruz represents focus as the only means of survival. The question Almodovar asks with her is whether Ledgard's experiments are changing her soul as well as her skin, and whether the masks one wears to make it through difficult situations become real (as it very literally does in Vera's case). Anaya plays Vera as an intriguing mystery both before and after we learn about her past, and does especially impressive work toward the end - her last scenes are an amazing combination of determination, torment, and pragmatism. It's great, measured work.

The rest of the cast impresses, too. Marisa Paredes beautifully twists a part that would often be Ledgard's conscience into something the often reflects his worst characteristics, while Roberto Alamo dives right into her monstrous son. Bianca Suarez finds both the strong appeal and mental fragility of Robert's daughter Norma, and Jan Cornet hits a very precise target with the boy Norma meets at a wedding. If Cornet makes his character even slightly more or less appealing, The Skin I Live In becomes a simple revenge or horror movie instead of an often-fascinating merger of the two.

Indeed, picture "revenge" and "horror" as filling in for the "male" and "female" in the classic yin-yang diagram; individually simple genre exercises that become far more interesting when combined in this way. While the details of what the characters do are occasionally a bit questionable, the way they do it is both intriguing and thrilling enough to make "The Skin I Live In" kind of exceptional, what could be a Frankenstein's Monster made into a thing of beauty.

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originally posted: 11/25/11 13:50:38
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2011 Festival de Cannes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2011 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2011 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 New York Film Festival For more in the 2011 New York Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/24/19 Dr. Lao That was weird 4 stars
4/24/17 David H. Dark, beautiful, and disturbing film from Almodovar! 5 stars
2/07/17 Louise Superbly made and an intriguing plot. Hugely enjoyable. 5 stars
4/13/15 jokerass lol 1 stars
3/17/15 Langano Wild ride. 4 stars
3/02/12 Katherine Wonderful, creepy, old school Almodovar! 5 stars
12/14/11 Alisharow Very use full blog and post.i love it 5 stars
12/12/11 orpy Don't bring your kids.... 3 stars
12/09/11 Man Out Six Bucks Trippy flick explores virgin territory 4 stars
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  14-Oct-2011 (R)
  DVD: 06-Mar-2012


  DVD: 06-Mar-2012

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