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|Review: The Skin I Live In|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Wednesday, 24 August 2011 08:09|
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
"I've got insanity in my entrails!" wails a woman halfway through this twisted thriller. The same could be said of Pedro Almodóvar. But by the time his tale of warped sexuality reaches its climax, that'll be the least of your worries.
On the surface, The Skin I Live In is about an unhinged plastic surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Banderas). Following the death of his wife, he's obsessed with creating an indestructible human skin using an illegal combination of transgenesis, animals and a human guinea pig.
His subject, Vera (Alaya), spends all day locked up in his luxurious villa, walking around in a skintight leotard and posing suggestively for the CCTV cameras. She's a sympathetic and seductive figure - and sexy as hell.
She's the perfect match for the fiery Antonio Banderas. Reunited with his former director, Banderas revels in the calm mannerisms of his mad surgeon. He's menacing and enigmatic - and sexy as hell. It's the best role he's had since his debut in Almodóvar's Labyrinth of Passion, where he played a gay terrorist with a supernatural sense of smell.
Together, doctor and patient move around the empty house, monitored by housekeeper Marilia (Paredes). And so things continue smoothly for an hour. Then the film grinds to a halt.
What follows almost feels like a second film altogether. A sultry saxophone plays while Almodóvar treats us to a long, slow flashback from Ledgard's past. We learn of his daughter's traumatic abuse as the director introduces familiar themes, from female identity to hidden family history. It's a bold change of pace, but one that's pulled off impeccably - Pedro's confident enough to let the story (based on a novel by Thierry Jonquet) come together gradually, creeping up to the plot's major turning point with barely a whisper.
The result is a final act that enthralls as much as it shocks. Accompanied by a Hitchcockian string of sinister arpeggios, we're confronted with the insanity underneath the film's restrained facade. There are flashes of Almodóvar's bawdy origins (a man in a leopard costume, someone holding a gun), but the director's madness continues to mature.
Supported superbly by the conflicted Jan Cornet and Spanish stalwart Marisa Paredes, the sombre ensemble present Pedro's kinky subversions with an artistic air - José Luis Alcaine's gentle cinematography nails the movie's quiet, demented flair. The Skin I Live In is an erotic horror, but one without gratuitous torture or cheap scares. The fear comes from the simple final scenes, as the harrowing events spiral deeper into natural debauchery. It's deranged, disturbing, and terrifyingly brilliant.
The Skin I Live In is a sexy masterpiece that excites as much as it unsettles. Audacious film-making at its most disturbing.
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Not enough cross-dressing and guns? Head this way for a look back at some of Pedro Almodóvar's earlier films.