Review: The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodovar for me has always been a regnant figure in film. His bold use of colour and the way he flirts with the contemporary and hip without straying too far into Tarantino territory has always won me over. However, these are all aesthetic values and the mark of a real auteur is to craft a film that can not only stand on its own merits aesthetically, but can transcend the competition that surrounds it with a compelling and poetic tale. I believe that The Skin I Live In should not only be praised for the way it strikes the perfect balance between the two but also for Almodovar’s finesse execution of such a bold tale.

The Plot of The Skin I Live In is too much of a secret to reveal. Almodovar has created a film in which you must walk in almost oblivious to its plot in order to truly appreciate it. However, some of the smaller details can be divulged. Essentially the film is about one man’s obsession with creating the perfect skin; immune to pain and disease, and it’s this obsession that leads him down the darkest streets of man’s desires.

Obvious trademarks of Almodovar’s work return, his extravagant use of bold colours and most predominantly, the use of some of the darkest humour since Observe and Report. During the screening I heard numerous quiet giggles during scenes that’d usually cause disgust. Almodovar’s work is vaguely reminiscent of Hooper’s 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in its use of humour, so dark and morbid it shouldn’t even be remotely amusing. Ironically it’s Almodovar’s love of all things morbid that breathes life into the film.

Sumptuous is the only word to describe this film. It’s absolutely ravishing to look at. Almodovar’s fetish of the human body goes beyond being perverse and becomes something rather beautiful. For a horror film it’s awfully graceful and slick, but this grace and elegance is only further exaggerated by the soundtrack chosen. Artists such as Trentmøller slip miraculously into the film’s natural flow giving it a vague feel of something drug like. An almost LSD simulated euphoria, which complimented by Almodovar’s habitual directing techniques really makes The Skin I Live In stand out from the crowd.

However, the film could have easily floated off into the outer realms of bafoonary if it wasn’t anchored by strong lead performances from Antonio Banderas as Robert and Elena Anaya as Vera Cruz. Banderas needs to be complimented especially for his menacing, yet charming performance as obsessed plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard. If it wasn’t for his natural charisma Robert would have been an unlikeable, morally corrupt demon. However, this charm elevates Robert to the status of anti-hero. Something that only a true actor at the apex of his game can pull off.

Almodovar here has created something of a masterpiece, a work of art but not in the existential way that Mallick did only a few months back. Here Almodovar has adopted a quality of making reality surreal; everything is dreamy, Kafkaesque and phantasmagorical yet at the same time it’s stamped with the mark of elegance, beauty and opulent design all anchored down by astonishing performances and a more than haunting story. It’s beyond the wit of man why this lost the Palm D’or to The Tree of Life. Almodovar isn’t just on the top of his game; but on top of the game as a whole.

15 certificate

Review by LiveWire Young Film Critic, Jay Crosbie (September ’11)
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