The Skin I Live In Review

A women’s body stretches hauntingly, seductively, across a chair. Elegant but twisted, graceful yet disturbing. These are the images that open legendary Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s latest work The Skin I Live In. A sublime and deeply compelling film; and one in which Almodóvar has created his most enjoyable and accessible work to date. Crafting in his own distinctive and unique style a masterpiece of intrigue with a twist so menacing and calculated it can never be alighted upon or revealed.

Skin marks a reunion for Almodóvar and his estranged choice leading male Antonio Banderas after a twenty or so year break since their last film, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. And Banderas is on Oscar winning form here, shedding the could have been histrionics of the melodrama and substituting them instead for what feels like an on screen emotional void. An expressionless, leathery faced, black hole; poisonous and insidious, deadly and delectable in equal measure. He plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgery expert, who uses his skills with a scalpel and prowess in the operating theatre to undo, or perhaps just live with, the tragedies that have taken those he loves. In his palatial home cum private surgery he holds prisoner the perfect, fragile Vera (Elena Anaya) with the help of his – although unbeknownst to him – mother and caretaker, Marilia (Marisa Paredes). Later on we leapfrog through time experiencing the occasion of his daughter’s death and its horrifying effect in the present.


It’s a difficult story to tell, unfolding as it does in dual timelines. And one feels it very well could have fallen apart in another’s hands but Almodóvar keeps the plates spinning and reconciles both narratives in a climactic middle act which is frankly the less talked about the better. This non-linear narrative has the effect of folding back over itself in the second half to reveal answers to a mysterious array of questions that are presented in the first. Assumptions and allegiances audiences may well posses at one stage can morph later on – a clever trick mirroring what is also happening onscreen – and effectually challenging and re-challenging out moral sensibilities.

Almodóvar has always thrived on putting psychopathic or unempathetic characters on screen and making us care for them and Skin is no different. For despite Ledgard’s evil the tragedies afflicting him evoke and demand an empathy. His characterisation is reminiscent most clearly of Javier Cámara’s Benigno in Talk To Her, a slave to torturous, possessive, misplaced love. In structure and tone the film mirrors its mercurial lead male; premeditative and calculating. Nothing about Ledgard’s movements or actions feels reckless or unplanned and the same can be said for the film, as the limited action that exists, exists with purpose, to cause ripples across a perfect surface, much like that of Anaya herself.


Part drama, part thriller, part body horror there’s also something exceptionally biblical about the piece. Almodóvar not only evokes the parable of the twins but overlays explicit imagery of the story of Cain and Abel. And compounding the biblical milieu with which Almodóvar infuses his film is the fulcrum on which the central plot tips – the reversal of the most enduring and original of all biblical lore.

Employing a flat visual tone and camerawork Almodóvar instils a sense of normality and believability to the bizarre proceedings, merely documenting events in a never flashy fashion. The resulting feeling is one of total complicity in an exquisitely turning narrative that is never predictable or mundane thanks to its macabre and perverse content. Wisps of potentials and what ifs are conjured creating a delta of narrative possibility which branch out and diverge in ever more spectacular options before Almodóvar instantly swipes these away to be replaced by a reality even more unimaginable. What’s most thrilling and sublime about the film however is Almodóvar’s ability to have Ledgard’s quest for lost love and vengeance dovetail in a menacing but fantastical fashion. Never giving too much away Almodóvar evidently revels in his unique ability to mesmerise us with both style and substance.

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