Staff Recommendation/ The Skin I Live In

James Condon, Cornerhouse Cafe Bar team member,  reviews The Skin I Live In

Having not seen any of Pedro Almodóvar’s previous work, there was just something about the title The Skin I Live In that captured me. I mean, we all have skin right? So the title alone feels very personal already.

Not knowing what to expect, the opening of the film is disarmingly serene. It’s the start of a new day, a morning that appears to be ideal. Yoga, a fresh breakfast and a beautiful girl trapped in an upstairs bedroom. Ok, not so ideal. The girl is called Vera. Please forgive the pun but you can guess that if we peel back the skin a little we know that there is something else at work.

As the film progresses we get to know a little more about Vera. She is locked away in an adjacent room to Antonio Banderas’ Dr Robert Legard ,who studies her with a voyeuristic interest on a TV screen the size of a small cinema. Vera (Almodóvar favourite Elena Anaya), is more than aware of her captivity and by what we can tell is happy living in those conditions. She is artistic, making Picasso-style busts and faces from clay and fabric, she even meditates and seems at ease. But when asking for more materials for her models she is denied the needle, thread and scissors, we can only guess that this girl might be psychologically damaged in some way.  Reason number two for sensing something smells fishy.

Having been romanced by Almodóvar for the first half of the film, by the time we find out who Vera is it is too late. We have been lured in, and are already co-conspirators. The whole structure of The Skin I Live In jumps back and forth in time. As confusing as the first half may leave you, now and again the arrangement of the events is presented very simply. Carlos Bodelón’s art direction and design of Legard’s house echoes the character’s personality; minimalist, classical and with the constant repetition of the female form. The portraits of bodies with no faces clearly show his one-track mind and how he has become obsessed with perfection during his profession as a plastic surgeon. Bodies are simply clay for the moulding, to create a form, his patients are his disciples and he is their saviour.

Alberto Iglesias’ score is very foreboding and is a good aid to Almodóvar’s vision. Childlike and sinister at times, Iglesias’ eclectic use of sound gives the film its uniqueness and helps to draw you further into the unconventional relationship between Robert and his captive muse.

So what did I think? The Skin I Live In is a great example of how well the thriller and horror genres can be cleverly mixed. Does it have shock value? Yes, but don’t expect to find anyone jumping out of their seats, although the unease within the film is truly terrifying. What to expect is a glimpse of the Spanish high life, with sex, drugs, nudity and a strange believability that is well researched, fitted in place with equally well thought out visuals and the suspense merged with Polanski undertones. I did enjoy it and left feeling entertained, rattled and unnerved at the plausibility of the finale. Unless you have read Thierry Jonquet’s  ‘Tarantular’ (on which the film is loosely based) like me you just don’t know what to expect at all. It is definitely worth a watch, but you will just have to find out the twists for yourself.