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.