I’ve reviewed quite a few foreign language films on here. Even been commended on featuring these less obvious films before now. There’s one director though who’s films I have not touched yet. He is possibly the greatest director of world cinema currently active and easily goes in my top 10 directors of all time. Not sure where, I don’t actually have a list. Let’s say behind Kubrick. Polanski and Hitchcock, but only just. That director is Pedro Almodovar and the film of his I watched last night, and am reviewing today, is the Skin I Live In. This is gonna be a tricky review. I shall do my best to avoid spoilers but you are being warned right here.
If you read the blurb on the back of the dvd case for this film it sounds almost like Almodovar is doing a science fiction film. The blurb talks about a renowned plastic surgeon named Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas in his first Almodovar film for 21 years) who has created a type of artificial skin that is capable of resisting burns and damage. He’s secretly, and very illegally, trialling this on a patient, who he has kept in seclusion at his home/private medical practice, called Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya). Robert had a wife some time prior to this called Gal who had suffered horrific full body burns and eventually committed suicide, which lead him to his research into a new type of artificial skin.
The way the first act leads you along is beautiful and masterful once you’ve begun to take in the rest of the film. We see that Vera is being kept away from sharp objects, that she can’t leave the room she is confined in and that Robert has developed feelings for her. Towards the end of this first act Roberts home is invaded by a man dressed as a tiger which leads to a moment that in most films would be what you’d consider it’s finale. No I’m not going to explain the man in the tiger suit because now you want to see that. Also it means some spoilers. This is where the first element of genre blending comes in.
Structurally The Skin I Live In follows the traditional Film Noir format, similar to that of say Double Indemnity (Amazing film by the way) where the opening act is set towards the end of the story, what follows that is a series of flashbacks explaining the years of events that led to that point. There’s quite a few elements as the film progresses that also tick the boxes of a Film Noir. There’s themes of revenge, good men going off the deep end and even a femme fatale of sorts. That’s not the only piece of genre bending though. Early on you’ll see scars on Vera that Robert is attempting to cover and, along with themes presented in the second act that bring about a near monster movie or horror aspect to the story. It literally stops just short of referencing Frankenstein’s monster. The patchwork nature of Vera’s scars is enough to trigger that little nod to classic horror.
Despite mixing Noir, horror and Sci-Fi other the course of it’s story the film never stops being an Almodovar’s. The usual themes of his work prevail such as themes of family, Identity, sexual deviance and obsession. It’s far removed from All About My Mother sure, but it’s not so far that it feels like it is from a vastly different director. There’s a harsh tone to dialogue and the manner characters interact that’s distinctly Almodovar’s too which comes through strongly.
The film is shot incredibly well, as you’ll see from some of the screens I captured. Almodovar has an amazing eye for a painterly shot, something that’s horribly missing from modern films. Occasionally you’ll see Fincher do a shot that borders on the true artistry that would have been attained by directors like David Lean or Cinematographers like Jack Cardiff on a regular basis, but really no-one shoots like Almodovar these days. Except maybe Terrence Malick and Roman Polanski. There is an odd number of shots of Antonio Banderas parking his car though. At least 4.
The film’s score was provided by Alberto Iglesias, who scored The Constant Gardener and the excellent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy along with a few of Almodovar’s previous films. His music weaves around the story and performances and never once over powers the scene. He’s one of the best in the industry. It’s actually a bit criminal that he hasn’t won an Oscar yet for his work. He will though. It should be noted that he was nominated for Tinker, Tailor… this year, and really should have won that. The Skin I Live In was ignored by the Academy Awards too, which isn’t surprising seeing as they were clearly adverse to any remotely challenging films this year. It’s a shame because it’s the best foreign language film I’ve seen from last year for sure. But to be fair I have not see A Separation which I have heard is pretty powerful stuff.
What you have here is a film that leads you in with a beautiful and gripping first act and then hammers you repeatedly over the head with just how dark the story you were engrossed in early on really is. I really cannot tell you what happens but suffice to say you will not expect it, maybe not believe it at first and by the end you will not be able to forget it.
Also, get yourself a copy of All About My Mother. Stunning film.