Firstly, you were supposed to be reading about the German WWII film Downfall (2004) according to my original Blind Spot announcement. But due to a dodgy DVD I’m going to have to order another. Never fear, as The Skin I Live In arrived in pristine condition and the reason I assigned it to December was because I wanted to leave the best ’til last.
Anyone who read my post on my favourite auteur, Señor Pedro Almodovar, will know how much I love his films. His films were the ones that made me love World Cinema and opened my eyes. In fact, when I first moved to Manchester for University The Skin I Live In was playing in the local art house cinema. This was a luxury I wasn’t accustomed to back home. At this point I’d never been to the cinema alone and knew of no one who wanted to see it, so I didn’t go. If I was prone to regrets, I’m sure I would regret that.
It’s difficult to summarise the plot without giving it away. However, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) performs experiments on an unwilling subject who he keeps captive at his house in order to engineer a skin that can survive burns and mosquito bites. He is assisted by his housekeeper and not all is as it seems. We delve into every characters’ past to discover the events that have previously unfolded to get to this point.
Almodovar himself described the film as a “horror story without screams or frights” and that’s not far from it. The characters are very multi-layered, sadistic and vengeful. There are no good and bad guys here. Antonio Banderas is wonderful in his native tongue and this role brings out a completely different side of him. Calculated, understated and quite psychopathic at times. Though his actions are clearly fueled by emotion.
I’m not aware of another Almodovar film that is quite like this one. Watching a new Almodovar film leads me to examine it in terms of his other films. Use of vivid colour, melodrama, sexuality and prominent female roles… Oh wait, maybe it’s not that different after all. It did remind me a lot of Talk to Her (2002) which also has female patients that are abused in some way. They are viewed like dolls to be to be played with and admired. Attention is put on how the patient looks. We watch her dress, undress and we watch her workout and move in her claustrophobic sterile body suit.
Nevertheless, The Skin I Live In is still a step away from the sort of flamboyance we’ve all come to know and love in Almodovar. Which is certainly no bad thing, but if you’re new to his work and you’re wanting something more typical, I wouldn’t start here. Gender, sexuality and the blending of both is extremely prominent but not in the camp, gay bar, ‘General Erection’ way of his earlier films. Though not dissimilar to All About My Mother (2000) in terms of taking a topic that should be taken seriously, seriously.
It doesn’t fill me with all the warm fuzzies that I get from Almodovar’s other films. I get a sense of empowerment, of something being unleashed, of new beginnings and going out and taking on the world. You are left with an ending I feel you, reader, will be satisfied with. But the cost of which will be more traditional thriller genre-like than traditional Almodovar-like.
Have you ever seen The Skin I Live In? Do you love Almodovar as much as I do?