The Establishing Shot: The Skin I Live In Review

Monday, August 01, 2011 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

the skin i live inThe Skin I Live in had it’s UK premiere at Film 4’s Summer Screen at Somerset House last Thursday so no doubt word of mouth an online buzz will start to widen. But I beseech you to avoid seeking reviews of The Skin I Live In – avoid the same fate that that befell me. A month ago whilst looking for information to synopsise The Skin I Live In. My second seemingly innocuous Google result, in three lines and without warning ruined what is a major plot element. Not a twist as such as I’m pretty sure as it rolls out organically you see it coming but I’m sure it’s marvelous to see play out on screen, in its own time.

The last Pedro Almodóvar film I saw was Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Or Átame! back in the 90s when it made its way to video. It starred a young and largely unknown Antonio Banderas and was about a certified lunatic Ricky (Antonio Banderas) who is infatuated with Marina, played by the gorgeous Victoria Abril, a porn actress. As soon as Ricky is released from a mental hospital he kidnaps Marina and tries to court her. What follows is a power play between the two personalities as they switch between dominant and submissive whilst a dingy and dangerous world encroaches on the locked away couple. The film is a mixture of humour, obsession and passion, but in all honesty the foundation of the film is the overriding passion of Spanish culture.

Although this was my first Pedro Almodóvar film it was the last that Antonio Banderas and Pedro Almodóvar collaborated on, previously that had worked on Labyrinth of Passion (1982), Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and finally Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990).

Fast forward 21 years, a now A List Antonio Banderas re-teams with Pedro Almodóvar in what must be his most surreal film yet - The Skin I Live In.

We are introduced to Antonio Banderas’ Doctor Robert Ledgard. He is a master of his world and the fore most authority of reconstructive surgery who has quietly been working on game changing reconstructive techniques.
The Skin I Live In - Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault…
15 minutes into The Skin I Live In I’m struck by two things:

1. Antonio Banderas has been wasted in American trash films over the last 10 years. It has been easy to file Banderas in the Spanish lothario rom-com department but The Skin I Live In reminded me that he really can act. It was a pleasure watching him on screen and I really hope to see him in more serious and daring roles moving forward.

2. Secondly from the outset Pedro Almodóvar creates an immersive Catalan world, rich sumptuous and beneath its veneer full of mystery. Pretty soon my attention was divided between the compelling and bold camera work and wondering where Almodóvar finds the gorgeous locations that are used. And I’m falling in love with Spain all over again.

Then the seemingly straight forward tale takes a rather ominous and bizarre turn - as we delve deeper into the world of Doctor Robert Ledgard with the arrival of an unwelcome visitor. And seamlessly we cross over into many of the themes seen in Almodóvar and Banderas’ last film together Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! As we learn more about Doctor Ledgard we learn of his tragic family history; the searing loss of his wife and terrible affliction that plagues his young daughter - that has culminated in a dark obsession.

I can’t help but think that if I hadn’t made the rookie mistake of Googling The Skin I Live In a while back it would have been a different film for me or at least some of Almodóvar’s surreal magic would not have been lost to me. In spite of this – The Skin I Live In is a sumptuous and engaging film to watch. Bold in its plot and colourful cinematography, matched well with great performances across the board. Especially from Antonio Banderas who surprises with a brilliant turn and shows he is a master of his trade allowing the other performers to shine in their roles including; the gorgeous Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes.

Despite some cringe worthy scenes I really enjoyed The Skin I Live In. Again Almodóvar demonstrated he is a master filmmaker that can create a world infused with the earthy richness that transcends cultural barriers whilst seducing with the Spanish culture and values. Every now and then I couldn’t help wonder why other filmmakers couldn’t infuse their own films with the uniqueness and beauty of their country and culture while telling an original story with the same ease that Almodóvar does.

The Skin I Live In possibly the closest we will see Almodóvar come to “horror” it will have squirming in your seats as well as wondering what could possibly happen next in Almodóvar's mysterious tale of family, loss and dark obsession.

The Skin I Live In will be in UK cinemas on Fri 26 August, 2011

The Skin I Live In
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Jan Cornet

The Skin I Live In Review

the skin i live in