Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet
Watch The Skin I Live In online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“I’ve got insanity in my entrails!” wails a woman halfway through this twisted thriller. The same could perhaps be said of Pedro Almodóvar, but by the time this tale of warped sexuality reaches its climax, that’ll be the least of your worries.
On the surface, The Skin I Live In is about an unhinged plastic surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Banderas). Following the death of his wife, he’s obsessed with creating an indestructible human skin using an illegal combination of trans-genesis, animals and a human guinea pig. His subject, Vera (Alaya), spends all day locked up in his luxurious villa, walking around in a skintight leotard and posing for the CCTV cameras.
This sympathetic, seductive figure proves the perfect match for Antonio Banderas’ poised doctor. Reunited with his former director, the actor revels in the calm mannerisms of this mad surgeon. He’s menacing, he’s enigmatic – it’s the best role he’s had since his debut in Almodóvar’s Labyrinth of Passion, where he played a terrorist with a supernatural sense of smell.
Together, doctor and patient move around the empty house, monitored by housekeeper Marilia (Paredes). And so things continue smoothly for an hour. Then the film grinds to a halt.
What follows almost feels like a second film altogether. A sultry saxophone plays while Almodóvar treats us to a long, slow flashback from Ledgard’s past. We learn of his daughter’s traumatic abuse, as the director introduces familiar themes, such as female identity and hidden family history. It’s a bold change of pace, but one that’s pulled off impeccably – Pedro’s confident enough to let the story (based on a novel by Thierry Jonquet) come together gradually, creeping up to the plot’s climax with barely a whisper.
The result is a final act that enthralls as much as it shocks. Accompanied by a Hitchcockian string of sinister arpeggios from composer Alberto Iglesias (his best soundtrack to date), we’re confronted with that insanity underneath the film’s restrained facade. There are flashes of Almodóvar’s bawdy origins (a man in a leopard costume, someone holding a gun), but the director’s madness now brings with it a matured streak of nastiness.
Supported superbly by the conflicted Jan Cornet and Spanish stalwart Marisa Paredes, the sombre ensemble present the unnerving subversions with an artistic air – José Luis Alcaine’s gentle cinematography nails the movie’s quiet, disturbing flair. The Skin I Live In is a biological horror, but one without gratuitous torture or cheap scares. The fear comes from the simple final scenes, as the harrowing events spiral deeper into terror. A terrifyingly brilliant masterpiece.
The Skin I Love In is available on BBC iPlayer until 30th September 2018.
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