The Skin I Live In – Movie Review

Pedro Almodovar and early male muse Antonio Banderas are reunited in this intense study of obsession and revenge.  They have achieved some pretty strong magic together in an exceptional, original and shocking story of a plastic surgeon with an unhealthy fixation and ultimate power.

At the Toronto Film Festival where the film gained notoriety and admiration, more than one person described it as “fantastic, but messed up” and I concur.

Banderas plays a Dr. Ledgard, a Spanish plastic surgeon developing super tough and gorgeous synthetic skin in his state of the art home lab/ operating theatre.  

He’s held in high regard in his country.  He’s well respected and sought after as a scientist, consultant and surgeon but he keeps to himself, and methodically sheds people form his life. 

He’s reached a crucial point in his experiments and prefers isolation to finish his work, because the law, medical ethics and decency are to be tossed aside.  He knows it, but doesn’t feel it; instead he is entirely unbound by normal restrictions.

There is a woman living in his underground lab, in a small room.  She is under video surveillance 24/7 and can’t leave the ugly, perpetually lit prison.  She is being held against her will to be his human experiment.   He is rebuilding her.  Who is she?  How did she get there?  Why did the doctor choose her?   Why can’t she leave?  Does anyone miss her? 

Almodovar’s dark imagination takes him into evil territory here, as we try to understand the doctor’s motives and why the women seems to accept her fate and even appears to love him.  It’s a twisted and enthralling story that unfolds piece by piece over an emotionally agonizing couple of hours.

Spanish actress Elena Anaya is a knockout as the woman.  Her expressive face speaks volumes, even as her body is covered in bandages, synthetic skin strips, masks and bodysuits.   She maintains a delicate balance between the illusion of what she says and does, versus the reality of her position and emotions.

And regarding Dr. Ledgard, we sympathize which makes us co-conspirators, and he gets the moral pass that respected, brilliant people often do.    But don’t think you know the answers. 

This has to be seen to be appreciated.  Banderas has masterfully given this man life, he’s seductive and godlike and completely believable.

Almodovar’s piece is minimalistic; a departure from his earlier films that seemed to burst with color, flavor, sights and sounds.  This is a chamber piece, not a celebration of life.  It is stark, modern, steel and chrome, severe rooms, costuming, art direction. 

It intellectualizes the world with a cold, impervious point of view.   The imagery is dramatic but dark, hard edged and very beautiful. 

While it’s so different from Almodovar’s other films, it has his masterful touch and vivid imagination. Let’s hope The Skin I Live In is remembered come awards season.

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35mm drama
Written and Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Opens:  Oct 14
Runtime:  117 minutes
MPAA: Rated R for disturbing violent content including sexual assault, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, drug use and language
Country: Spain
Language:  Spanish / English subtitles

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