Introduction

The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In
  • Country of production: Spain
  • Year: 2011
  • Certificate: 15
  • Director: Pedro Almodóvar
  • Running time: 117 minutes
  • Official website: www.theskinilivein.co.uk
 

The Skin I Live In is a thriller and horror story, a modern-day Frankenstein tale, from maverick Spanish director PEDRO ALMODOVAR. Many thought this sublimely fashioned and compelling melodrama, which stars ANTONIO BANDERAS, should have won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Daily Telegraph's David Gritten called it 'the work of a master near the top of his game' and Wendy Ide in The Times praised it as 'Almodóvar at his most obscenely entertaining and shamelessly exploitative’.

The film – loosely based on Thierry Jonquet's 1984 novel Mygale (Tarantula in the English translation) – is Almodóvar's first collaboration with Banderas in 21 years, since 1990’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down.

Banderas plays eminent plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, whose wife died after she had been horribly burned in a car crash and who has subsequently embarked on ethically dubious research to create a pain-resistant artificial skin that could have saved her.

Disturbingly, Ledgard's palatial laboratory also doubles as a prison for unstable young patient Vera Cruz. She’s played by Elena Anaya, a Spanish actress previously best known for her part in the erotic Sex and Lucia (2001). It’s a role that Almodóvar originally had in mind for Penélope Cruz.

Vera's flawless skin – hidden under a skin-coloured body stocking – is the work of Ledgard, but his painstaking effort is threatened by the arrival of the thuggish Zeca (the son of Ledgard's loyal housekeeper Marilia, played by Almodóvar regular Marisa Paredes), who thinks he knows who Vera is.

Employing flashbacks, Almodóvar chillingly reveals exactly what the sinister surgeon is doing – and exactly who he is doing it to. A story that’s drenched in lust, infidelity and obsession is pieced together with the director's trademark flourish.

Writing in The Guardian, Catherine Shoard welcomed ‘a classic Almodóvar melodrama, mixing dark comedy, sticky sex, highly coloured domesticity and much meditation on male desire’. It is also pure Almodóvar in the sense of showcasing his astounding 'confidence in his own ability to take a story into daring, farcical territory' (Jason Solomons, The Observer).

Re-view

The Skin I Live In

MADE TO MEASURE

The Skin I Live In feels like rejuvenation for the 61-year old director. Despite the dark theme, it boasts his confident playfulness of old. Recently Almodóvar has referenced the great filmmakers in noir homages; here he mostly references himself and is, yes, at ease this time in his own skin.’

(FIONNUALA HALLIGAN, SCREEN INTERNATIONAL)

In The Guardian Peter Bradshaw listed several aspects of this film that call to mind other Almodóvar films. Transplanted elements include doppelgängers, dramatic staircase scenes and a middle-aged man watching the object of his affection on a large screen.

Almodóvar also revisits wider themes here, such as legacies of family secrets, blood ties and genetic traits. It is Ledgard's fractured relationship with his unfaithful wife that has nudged him towards dubious practices, resulting in a Frankenstein-style desire to create an unblemishable skin and – ultimately – fashion a copy of his dead wife. His relationship with his mother is also aberrant and at one point she memorably declares: "I've got insanity in my entrails."

Animal skin

Then there's desire, from Ledgard himself, whose profound emotions are expressed in the clinical atmosphere of his operating theatre, to the animal passion of Zeca stalking and consuming his vulnerable prey. The introduction of the brutish Zeca provides both an intriguing plot twist and a camply comic diversion (he's fleeing the police dressed in a carnival tiger costume). 'Only Almodóvar could get away with this potentially grizzly melodrama and make you laugh as well as shudder' (Derek Malcolm, London Evening Standard).

'And perhaps most startling and most characteristic of all, there is Almodóvar's great theme of transsexual identity, which speaks of passion, fantasy and escape' (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian). This provides the engine for what is an unsettling movie.

Just as Almodóvar can be seen in all of this, the characters’ inner selves are revealed by their on-screen manifestations (or their reactions to these). Thus Zeca behaves like a wild animal, Vera cuts up her dresses and Ledgard’s blank face signals a lack of feeling.

The story is convincing thanks partly to the performances. Banderas is 'a better villain for not seeming like some dastardly doctor out of a horror film’ (Derek Malcolm, London Evening Standard) and Anaya’s 'standout' performance was praised by The Times' Wendy Ide for the ‘limpid, classic beauty of an Audrey Hepburn and a fearless approach to a role that requires her to be carved up like a piece of meat'.

The film’s “skin”

In collaboration with production designer Antxón Gómez and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, Almodóvar has produced a visual style that is 'sleek and stylishly furnished, sensually charged with richness and colour and splashes and gashes of red' (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian).

How the film looks engenders an impression that goes beyond the superficial. David Gritten wrote in The Daily Telegraph that: ‘All three men have the gift of investing mundane objects with a unique sheen; here even surgical instruments, about to be used malevolently, assume a dreamy, otherworldly quality.’

Genres in its genes

While the style and look are undoubtedly Almodóvar, he acknowledges comparisons with such influences as Buñuel, the pop aesthetic of Hammer horror films and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), in which Scottie, played by James Stewart, makes Kim Novak’s character take on the appearance of the woman he loves.

It inevitably also echoes a long line of films about demented plastic surgeons. Perhaps most obvious among these is Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face (1960), in which a brilliant surgeon kidnaps women and tries to transplant their faces on to his daughter, whose own face has been disfigured in a car crash.

The ‘intersecting narrative strands are woven together with consummate skill’ (Maria Delgado, Sight & Sound) to achieve the desired effect. Screen International's Fionnuala Halligan was moved to remark that ‘waking up from an operation will never be the same again’.

 
Pro-files

The Skin I Live In

PEDRO ALMODOVAR

WRITER AND DIRECTOR
PEDRO ALMODOVAR
Pedro Almodovar filming The Skin I Live In

Pedro Almodóvar is one of modern cinema’s most admired directors, but this hallowed reputation is far removed from his early years. Born in a small Spanish town in the impoverished region of La Mancha in September 1949, Almodóvar took off to Madrid in the late 1960s. While working as an administrative assistant for the national telephone company he became part of that city’s burgeoning underground arts scene, contributing stories to comic strip magazines, performing cabaret theatre, playing in a rock group and making short films. These shorts developed a cult following and their provocative, humorous, playful approach to sexuality reflected the freedom of La Movida, the countercultural movement that took place in Madrid during the ten years immediately following the death of Franco in 1975.

That outrageous sensibility persisted in his early features: comedies like Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980) and Dark Habits (1983), set in a convent of nuns. Perfecting his craft on polished comedies like What I Have Done to Deserve This? (1984) and dark melodramas like Matador (1986), a film about the lethal sex drives of a former matador and high-powered female lawyer, Almodóvar finally achieved his international breakthrough with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). A glossy ensemble comedy about a jilted middle-aged woman, it owed a debt to Hollywood comedies of the 1950s and showcased Almodóvar’s theatrical sense of style together with a gift for working with actresses that has earned him his reputation as the consummate ‘women’s director’.

More campy sophistication followed with Tie Me Up Tie Me Down (1990), High Heels (1991) and Kika (1993). But in the late 1990s the director developed a more restrained style, notably in his 1997 version of British writer Ruth Rendell’s crime novel Live Flesh.

That picture set the tone for the mature, emotional depth of his more recent films. All About My Mother (1999), his stunning portrait of a middle-aged actress grieving the sudden death of her son, is probably his most moving film. Talk to Her (2002) is a complex tale of two men in love with comatose women told with passion and compelling elegance that won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Bad Education (2004), about growing up in a religious school, is his most explicitly autobiographical, while Volver (2006) saw the director write his star Penélope Cruz her greatest role, as a tough working-class woman. She also starred in Broken Embraces (2009), a cleverly constructed melodrama.

Constantly surprising his audience with shifts of tone and approach but always creating a rich visual experience, Almodóvar has few equals in European cinema.

ANTONIO BANDERAS

ROBERT LEDGARD

Perhaps Spain’s most celebrated leading man and its only male Hollywoodstar, Antonio Banderas has a long-standing association with Pedro Almodóvar. The Spanish director gave the young theatre actor a role in his low-budget comedy Labyrinth of Passion, which was released in 1982, when Banderas was only 22 years old. His performance led to roles in other Spanish movies and he continued his collaboration with Almodóvar in such films as Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987) and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). The huge success of the latter film earned Banderas international attention, not least from Madonna, who admitted to a crush on the actor in the 1991 rockumentary In Bed With Madonna.

Hollywood roles followed, despite Banderas’s initially shaky English, starting with The Mambo Kings (1992). He played Tom Hanks’s lover in the 1993 Oscar-winning AIDS drama Philadelphia and the following year starred alongside Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles. But it was in 1995, as the avenging guitar player in Robert Rodriguez’s tongue-in-cheek action movie Desperado, that Banderas proved his leading-man credentials. He continues to work with Rodriguez, playing the scientist hero and family man who heads up the cast for the director’s Spy Kids franchise.

Banderas’s other roles have included playing Ché Guevara alongside Madonna in Alan Parker’s musical Evita (1996) and the eponymous swordsman in The Mask of Zorro (1998), whose swashbuckling he gamely sent up when he provided the voice for Puss in Boots in Shrek 2 (2004) and its sequels. He also made a move into directing with 1999 comedy Crazy in Alabama, starring his wife, Melanie Griffith.

Banderas was most recently seen as a rich London art-gallery owner in Woody Allen’s comedy-drama You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010). Later this year he will reprise his role as the debonair cartoon cat from Shrek in the forthcoming Puss in Boots.

ELENA ANAYA

VERA

Elena Anaya’s breakthrough role was in Sex and Lucia (2001), an erotically tinged drama from director Julio Medem, in which she played a young woman who seduces the film’s novelist hero. A small role in Pedro Almodóvar’s Talk to Her followed in 2002. Named by an influential film industry body as one of Europe’s most promising stars in 2004, this striking-looking actress has gone on to secure major parts in international features, including Hollywood fantasy Van Helsing (2004), in which she played a vampire; Mesrine (2008), about real-life gangster Jacques Mesrine; and Point Blank (2010), a Paris-set action movie.

EDUARD FERNANDEZ

FULGENCIO

Fernández is among Spain’s most respected actors, having won two Goyas (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars) for his performances in the 2001 modern-day take on the Faust legend Fausto 5.0 and 2003 ensemble drama In the City. He combines TV and film work in Spain with more internationally ambitious Spanish-language projects, such as Che: Part Two (2008), Steven Soderbergh’s epic biopic of Ché Guevara. He was last seen in UK cinemas alongside Javier Bardem in sombre Barcelona-set drama Biutiful (2010).

MARISA PAREDES

MARILIA

The Skin I Live In is veteran actress Marisa Paredes’s fourth film for Pedro Almodóvar, following a supporting role in The Flower of My Secret (1995), an uncredited appearance in Talk to Her (2002) and a major part as a celebrated stage actress in All About My Mother (1999). Since her debut movie role in 1960 at the age of 14, Paredes has combined film work – including a significant role in Oscar-winning Italian Holocaust drama Life is Beautiful (1997) – with regular appearances on Spanish television.

JOSE LUIS GOMEZ

PRESIDENT OF THE BIOTECHNOLOGY INSTITUTE

Now aged 71 and a veteran of Spanish cinema and theatre, the actor’s many titles include the 1976 psychological drama Pascual Duarte, for which he was awarded the Best Actor prize at Cannes, Goya’s Ghosts (2006) and Pedro Almodóvar’s last film, Broken Embraces (2009).

SUSI SANCHEZ

VICENTE'S MOTHER

A regular on both small and large screens in Spain, Susi Sánchez is most familiar to UK audiences for the 2009 Peruvian magic realist drama The Milk of Sorrow (2009), in which she played an upper-class pianist.

FERNANDO CAYO

DOCTOR

Cayo is well known to Spanish audiences for his performances in television drama. His best-known movie role was playing the heroine’s husband in the Guillermo del Toro-produced horror The Orphanage (2007).

 
Cinemas

The Skin I Live In

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