Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Skin I Live In (2011)

The Skin I Live In (2011)
Dir. Pedro

4 out of 5

Shocking transformations abound in
The Skin I Live In, including that of the movie itself. Pedro Almodóvar sets the stage for lurid horror in the first half-hour, detailing the obsessive nature of a brilliant cosmetic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) illicitly testing a new synthetic skin on a mysterious female captive (Elena Anaya) sequestered in his sprawling mansion dotted with surveillance cameras. The hint of romance in their otherwise hazy relationship is crystallized when an intruder forces himself on Anaya and is shot dead by Banderas. With the audience now thoroughly confused, a long, unfolding series of twists reveals that Skin is not a kinky sort of horror flick, but another one of Almodóvar's patented queer mysteries in the vein of Bad Education.

We learn that family tragedy once stoked a thirst for revenge in Banderas. He seeking recompense beyond the law, he squares in on the young man (Jan Cornet) who sexually assaulted his mentally unstable teenage daughter at a wedding reception. It's a crime story without any detective work. Aside from a few scenes showing the anguish of Cornet's family regarding his sudden disappearance, the film trends toward the gratification of Banderas' experimental schemes. It becomes apparent that what he's seeking isn't justice exactly, but another chance to reassemble his broken world, a series of acts similar to the facial reconstructions he performs on his patients - operations he notes as the most moving experiences of his life.

Almodóvar's reputation as an aesthete permeates this gleefully licentious film. His refined-yet-grotesque sensibility is present in the impeccably decorated home that doubles as Anaya's prison. Banderas' taste in art mirrors his preoccupation with body amorphism - he's a man who likes to relax under the gaze of classical and abstract nudes after a long day of rearranging human flesh. And though Almodovar seems to be straining for a reaction with some of the movie's more clinical elements, it would be a mistake to call The Skin I Live In a dispassionate provocation. Much credit should go to Anaya, who lends poignancy and feistiness to a character that is otherwise a plasticine toy. Even the most outrageous events reach a satisfying emotional conclusion in the final scene, transforming the ostensibly unnatural into something beautiful and empathetic.

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