Reviews

The Skin I Live In

4

Sex, melodrama, extreme makeovers. Must be Almodóvar…

If genius steals, the art of the job lies in making what’s stolen your own. Pedro Almodóvar’s 18th film operates under Hitchcock’s corpulent shadow, with Douglas Sirk, Georges Franju and Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula as joint sources.

But you wouldn’t mistake The Skin I Live In for anything other than Almodóvarian, from its boundary-busting sexual politics to its elegant, sumptuous fetishism of surfaces. As a man moulds a woman in his late love’s image, Vertigo references dangle openly.

But by presenting Mr. Makeover as a grief-damaged plastic surgeon coolly played by old regular Antonio Banderas, Almodóvar adds his own makeover.

Almodóvar imprints multiply: an imprisonment recalls Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, elaborate revenge ploys echo Live Flesh. A paella of fraught family secrets served in pristine compositions recalls everything he’s made.

The stress on immaculate surfaces might leave some cold: The Skin I Live In doesn’t touch quite like Almodóvar’s finest, Talk To Her and Volver. But it tops his tired last film, Broken Embraces, because its focus on surfaces is fully integrated into the theme of how skins define us.

A man in an animal mask behaves like one; a vertical line-up of variously sized dilators echoes opening shots of cell bars lining the screen, linking the skin and its needs to a prison. Any more than that can’t be revealed, because the rest involves a twist that’s both Almodóvarian and outré even by his own daring standards.

Hitchcock never quite went that far – but you suspect he’d have admired Almodóvar’s balls.

Extras include seven featurettes but were unavailable to watch.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • FBEXanthopoul

      Jan 21st 2012, 16:38

      4

      www.unsungfilms.com, by Georgia Xanthopoulou I attended a lecture a while ago about Almodovar and his work. It was a very interesting group of people talking, from a Spanish professor talking about the ‘Movida’ movement to a radio dj who talked about music selection in Almodovar’s films. The occasion was the release of Almodovar’s latest film ‘La piel que habito’ or ‘The skin I live in’. It struck me as very odd how the group also included a psychiatrist. I switched off as soon as she started talking about the phallic mother and castration of the male… It is my belief that the psychoanalytical approach to discussing films is pretty outdated and deeply flawed to begin with. Yesterday I watched the film myself and have to admit the psychiatrist was there for a reason. Even thought I still don’t agree with most of the things she said, I can understand why she was included in the lecture, since the film definitely gives the right to be talking about phallic mothers and all the rest of it. The plot revolves around a surgeon who holds a woman captive and experiments with her in order to manufacture the perfect skin. As everyone at the lecture mentioned, this is a film which stresses the notion that what we look like helps define who we are, or think we are anyway. Appearances play a big part in how society views us, and the roles that we are, more often than not, made to play. The skin, in the film, definitely stands for a person’s looks and outer appearance, in general and Almodovar goes a long way to convince us that we definitely judge a book by its cover. The blame is not being put on us, but, once again, on modern patriarchal society who has turned our appearance and our bodies to all that one sees, never wondering what may be underneath. However, another point is made as well. No matter how much one tries, there are some things that are inherent, and that make up who we are more than anything else. As much as the surgeon tries to change his subject, and he succeeds to in many ways, still he can’t change everything. So, if appearance is instrumental to how other people view us, still we should know and never forget who we are and what we are and stick to it. The film has all the Almodovarian elements one would expect to get. Even though it’s not one of his funny films, it’s not one of his sad ones either. I would put it in the same category as ‘Mala Educacion’. The cinematography is always a pleasure to the eyes, the script is like it’s lifted straight off of a soap opera but, somehow, in the end, it provokes thought. The music is dramatic, at times over the top but, still, to the point and Almodovar extracts good performances from all his actors. The set is extravagant, but not as kitch as his earlier work, in keeping with the tradition of his latest films, and Antonio Banderas blends in well with the rest, quite unknown to a larger audience, actors just fine. I can’t really reveal much about the plot since there is a, possibly, jaw-dropping moment somewhere around the middle of the film. However, I would like to note that with all the queer readings that most of Almodovar’s films invite, this one has, at heart, quite a heteronormative outcome. Not in the typical way, that’s for sure. But, at the very end of the film, there is a hint of the merging of a homosexual, in some respects, with a heterosexual relationship. Or maybe what he is trying to get at is, in this day and age, that distinction should become obsolete and relationships shouldn’t be defined by these standards. Still, to me, the hint of the romance, in the end, is of a heterosexual, at least from one side, nature and it provides the hope and closure that the main character needs in order to move on. What a queer reading for an Almodovar film… Georgia Xanthopoulou at www.unsungfilms.com

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