Article/ The Skin I Live In: Skin Deep

Reunited with Antonio Banderas, The Skin I Live In finds Pedro Almodóvar on blistering form

By Marianne Gray

Pedro Almodóvar has always created a stir with his explicit and challenging style of filmmaking. Brightly coloured and skilfully produced, his films have irreverently explored taboos such as suicide, adultery, prostitution, drugs, drag, trans-sexuality, incest, abortion, illicit or gay sex and violence. His frivolity itself is a political statement and he clearly relishes wandering across dangerous territories. Almodóvar continues to challenge with his 18th feature, The Skin I Live In, which is loosely based on Thierry Jonquet’s dark novel ‘Tarantula’. It stars Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes, was shot in Toledo and unfolds in and around a finca called El Cigarral. Featuring themes of bioethics and trans-genesis, it tells the story of an eminent plastic surgeon with a dangerous obsession for creating new skin. Though skirting the boundaries of horror, it is less influenced by Hammer and more indebted to the cinemas of Buñuel, Hitchcock, Lang, Franju (particularly his 1960 classic Eyes Without A Face) and John Waters.

The script was revised nine times, gradually constructing the complex personality of Dr Robert Ledgard. Banderas – who previously worked with Almodóvar to great acclaim on films such as Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and 1990’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down – now 50 and stylishly attired, conveys a sense of deep, dark purpose. And thanks to his director’s canniness in drawing out our sympathies for even the most unattractive of characters, we care for him.

As with all of Almodóvar’s films, The Skin I Live In is a gripping cocktail of melodrama, sly humour and cinematic references, with all the traditional playfulness, gender preoccupations and underlying darkness we have come to expect from ‘un film de Almodóvar’. He has a particular way of viewing the world and few filmmakers are able to equal his ability in capturing our emotions through powerful and breathtaking imagery.

Almodóvar has admitted that on a psychological level this is a very different film from anything else he has done. Moreover, there are moments when the film shifts seamlessly between genres, one minute offering up an intense but entertaining drama and the next drawing on elements of film noir. Some may attempt a psychoanalytic reading of the film, but Almodóvar is too clever to offer trite answers to his characters’ behaviour.

The film finds the director enjoying a cinema where all the irregularities and imperfections of life can be glossed over. “I can’t explain or show how I make a film,” says Almodóvar. “I just set the tone and mix the styles and genres and shoot it, and somehow it seems to work. When I make my films I try to do it all by intuition not according to theory.  I’m a moviemaker, not an artist. I’m not socially responsible. I use what I see, what I know.”

With thanks to Curzon Cinemas

The Skin I Live In screens at Cornerhouse from Thu 25 August