Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Skin I Live In

Film: The Skin I Live In [2011, spain]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles @ Arclight Cinema
Who with: loner style
Rating: ****
Rating for Pedro Almodovar's bad-assness at age 62: *****!
Rating for paying $13.50 for a matinee: *

You really have to hand it to Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar. He's been making feature length movies since the late 1970s and recently turned 62, yet, he's a complete and utter bad-ass who is still unleashing his vision on the audience, no matter how prickly the subject matter might be. His latest, The Skin I Live In, is an example of his bold, brave and twisted viewpoint. This movie is not one that the masses will probably enjoy. For example, if this played in my recently departed [and beloved] home state of Oklahoma and people had no clue they were watching an Almodovar movie, I bet that there would be much derision and hostility in the audience. It would be palpable in that darkened theatre. Heck, I sensed some of that at the screening I saw here in Los Angeles and these big-city folks are supposed to less prone to shock and controversy. But, people who love the craft of moviemaking and want to see something a little dangerous, a little bit out of bounds and unexpected, you will greatly enjoy The Skin I Live In as Almodovar delivers another intoxicating dose of Spanish cinema that will leave a strange nervousness in your stomach when the credits roll. And, yes, that's a good thing.

Antonio Banderas enters the world of Almodovar for the first time since 1990's Tie Me Up and Tie Me Down [which was one of the first ever nationally released NC-17 films] and there's an odd parallel between these two films for Banderas. In both movies, he plays a man who kidnaps someone. Yes, for entirely different reasons [love v. revenge] but a kidnapping is crucial to both plots. In The Skin I Live In Banderas plays Roberto, a prominent plastic surgeon who is dealing with the death of family members while trying to create a new kind of skin that will be superior than normal skin. For his experiments, he has imprisoned Vera [Elena Anaya, who was also in the recently reviewed Point Blank] as she lays around in a lush setting, but the doors and windows are still locked, it's still a prison for her. The film jumps back to tell Vera's story as it merges with Robert's painful memories of wife/daughter and just how we got to the present with this person held in the room. Vera's story is where the film gets kind of kinky and twisted.

The Skin I Live In works as a kind of low-burn "Frankensteinian" inspired horror film, but Almodovar is making some bigger statements with this one. The question of self-identity and the malleable form of the human body in this 21st century world of surgical procedures are two big issues for The Skin I Live In. Look at the poster. The two leads have a rubberized, overly processed look that almost makes them seem like artificial creations. That's intentional. Roberto is the "madman" looking to create the perfect woman by every sort of method that goes against the accepted ethical laws of science. He doesn't care, completely driven by his obsession that could cost him his career and possibly his life.

The Skin I Live In is one that will stick with you for a few days. I keep thinking about it in weird moments, such as when I'm doing the dishes or waiting at a stop light. It's one of those movies that invades your thoughts long after it is over. As I said in the introduction, that's a good thing. With The Skin I Live In, Pedro Almodovar proves once again that he's one of the most interesting, provocative directors working in cinema. And, luckily for us as movie lovers, he shows absolutely no sign of watering down his style or message. He's going to keep making "Almodovar" films, another very good thing in this climate of safe, mainstream moviemaking.

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