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  Skin I Live In, The Mad About The Girl
Year: 2011
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Eduard Fernández, José Luis Gómez, Blanca Suárez, Susi Sánchez, Bárbara Lennie, Fernando Cayo, Chema Ruiz
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is one of the most brilliant surgeons in the world, having performed nine face transplants so far, all of them a roaring success. Now he is endeavouring to create a new synthetic skin to revolutionise the human race: it would be fire and mosquito resistant, which would mean malaria would be a thing of the past, but he is having trouble selling the idea to the authorities when they need more proof than his say so that his invention works as well as it does. But Robert does have proof: a woman locked away in his country house who he has been using as his guinea pig for six years...

Banderas had made his name internationally in the films of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, but by the time they got to collaborate again, over twenty years had gone by and with Antonio quite conclusively going Hollywood in the intervening period some wondered if he would ever go back to his roots. Then along came The Skin I Live In, or La piel que habito to give it the original title, a Spanish film through and through and also one of the most outrageously plotted Almodóvar movies for a while, as if seeing his old friend again had triggered those old stylings once more after too much good taste.

That's not to say it was all giddy laughs and cheerfully transgressive behaviour, because the tone here was very sober so as to sell the big twist halfway through: any other, more lighthearted or self-consciously wacky approach would have overbalanced this into outright camp, and made it more frivolous than the director wanted it to be. Indeed, there was a very grave mood to much of what we saw, so that even when it got to the craziness you may have laughed, but you would not have been chortling all the way through up to that point, as the handling of the plot did not invite that interpretation.

Banderas was commendably straightfaced throughout, not bad for a role which was essentially an updating of the more traditional mad scientist of countless horror movies, and Elena Anaya as that guinea pig, Vera, brought a vulnerability to her reading that only as events played out did we begin to understand. It seems Ledgard has covered her body in his synthetic skin product, but for some reason is reluctant to share her with the rest of the scientific community, and her protests at being locked up in his mansion with only the housekeeper (Marisa Paredes) knowing she is there are becoming more desperate, cutting the skin to spoil her captor's schemes, though these gestures are futile.

Then the backstory begins as we question who Vera is and how she landed in this predicament. The answer to the former could be she is the wife of Ledgard who supposedly died in a car crash, burned alive - but did she die? Or could she be daughter of the surgeon, who was traumatised by something in her past, in which case why is he so keen to take the woman to his bed, as if hopelessly enamoured of her - though it's more his own genius he is caught up in? Possibly Vera is someone else entirely, and the theme of no matter who you appear to be on the outside it may not match the way you are on the inside, psychologically, is pushed to the fore, subtly at first, then with more stress, in both senses of the word. The second half of the film is caught up in a lengthy explanation, and finally the resolution, of a narrative that may be gimmicky when it comes down to it, but Almodóvar managed to get away with the huge strains on credulity by adopting utmost seriousness to deliver what tended to fall apart in retrospect. Music by Alberto Iglesias.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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