The Skin I Live In - SideReel Review
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar possesses the singular ability to mix melodrama with kink, and if nothing else, The Skin I Live In plays like the purest definition of his cinematic vision, even if it's nowhere close to being his best movie.
The film stars Antonio Banderas as Dr. Robert Ledgard, a renowned plastic surgeon who has perfected a synthetic skin that is more durable than actual human flesh. At the same time, he's keeping a pretty young woman prisoner in his home. She has a room to herself, and a comfortable bed, and her meals are delivered on a dumbwaiter by Robert's loyal maid Marilia (Marisa Paredes), but she's always clad in a full bodysuit, and Robert keeps tabs on her through cameras he's installed in the room. Her behavior doesn't signal if she's being held against her will, and she attempts to have sex with him without any coercion on his part. However, it's still plainly obvious that Robert doesn't want anyone to know she is there, and he will not let her leave. His secret threatens to come out when Marilia's criminal son shows up and discovers the woman, leading to an attempted rape and a murder.
It's best not to know too much about the plot before going to see The Skin I Live In, because the fun comes from how Almodovar methodically but playfully reveals how this situation came to be and what motivates these characters. There's a sensibility about the whole movie that's very close to noir: We may be through with the past, but the past is never through with us.
Banderas was one of Almodovar's first muses -- he played a prominent role in a number of the Oscar winner's earliest international successes -- but this is the first time the duo have worked together in over 20 years. Luckily, Banderas continues to bring out Almodovar's most-outrageous impulses. You won't hear anyone coming out of this movie muttering, "we've seen that story before."
But in a way, if you've kept up with Almodovar over the last three decades, you really have seen much of this movie before. Sure, the actual plot points are new, but the themes are quintessential Almodovar. His obsession with cross-dressing finds its seemingly natural conclusion in this film, and he continues to show how most men are slaves to their sexual desires, while most women are forever at the mercy of these unstable men.
While it's undeniably gorgeous -- shot with a style that fuses Douglas Sirk and Alfred Hitchcock -- The Skin I Live In doesn't have the emotional pull of his best work. It lacks the emotional revelations of All About My Mother or the aching romanticism of Talk to Her. It takes a very long time to figure out whom, if anyone, we're supposed to care about in this story, and we end up feeling dissatisfied that there’s no one to empathize with -- the hero's journey is so perverse that it's nearly impossible to embrace.
For those who value Almodovar's fearlessness when it comes to tackling the most-outrageous subject matter, The Skin I Live In is proof that he still has a number of surprises left in him. But this time around, his plot feels too manipulative. He's finally come up with a scenario so bizarre that even his abundant humanism can't make it feel real.