The Skin I Live In (Spanish: La piel que habito), 2011.
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo and Blanca Suárez.
A genius plastic surgeon, haunted by the tragedies of his past, creates a type of synthetic skin, tested on an imprisoned patient, that can withstand any kind of damage. His guinea pig – a volatile woman whose origin reveals the mystery of their past.
To be honest, I find myself increasingly unmoved by a vast majority of what I’ve seen throughout blockbuster season. I know they’re popcorn flicks but I can’t help but admit to you guys that I’m looking for a film that moves me. I want to be shocked, challenged, pushed to tears or occasionally sickness. I want internal conflict. For whatever reason while seeing The Skin I Live in I felt like someone threw a bucket of cold water over me. I was sharp. I was agonising over every twist and turn. I was shuffling in my seat. I was feeling physical reactions to the scenes and quite simply I was impressed with Banderas’ strikingly nuanced performance under the incredible direction of Almodóvar.
I think that Banderas’ Spanish origins has had him typecast for an age in very theatrical and over the top/hammed up roles that really haven’t done his ability justice. He absolutely blew me away. His intensity, constantly suppressed and conveyed through his clinical gestures and mesmorising gaze. This is him at an award winning level.
Elena Anaya is spellbinding as Vera. Her back story is increasingly tantalising and provocative. Her range in this performance is really impressive. She’s got a lot of emotion terrain to cover – some of it quite treacherous and without her thoughtful and delicate performance; could have lapsed into something farcical.
And Almodóvar; I must admit that I’m relatively new to the master of Spanish cinema – but with every new viewing that mantle of master seems to be repeatedly validated. No one does what ultimately could be considered ‘melodrama’ with such beauty and grace. His composition is classical and his characters have a mass on screen – and I particularly feel that regardless of how beautiful the production design, or colour scheme in a scene is – the characters fill the frame. Some of the technological advancements in the film potentially make this film the first science fiction-melodrama hybrid and it works perfectly.
I’m sure that you’ve realised by now that I’m intentionally with-holding the details of this story. This isn’t because I didn’t love it; quite the contrary actually. It just feels impossible after disclosing the snippet of plot summary at the beginning of the review to mention anything that isn’t going to ruin the film for you. The Skin I Live In is layered to reveal the depths of the characters, and their origins.
This film affected me. I got home and needed a drink to process just how much it affected me. Almodóvar puts you through a moral roller coaster and all I can say is that you simply must see it. It won’t sit easily with you, you won’t have a relaxed or easy viewing. It will challenge you – and you’ll realise the power of the film medium.
Blake Howard is a writer/site director/podcaster at the castleco-op.com.