Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Skin I Live In

some SPOILERS - but not really.

Almodovar's latest, The Skin I Live In, sees him reunite with old friend Antonio Banderas to tell the tale of an obessive (and probably insane) plastic surgeon who is attempting to create a new type of artificial skin which could have saved his badly burned wife (who threw herself out of a window upon catching sight of her reflection). Despite the assertions of many critics, The Skin I Live In is very much a traditional Almodovar film. It is clear however, that he has been watching rather more Hitchcock than is healthy and has also taken his fixations with sexuality, understated violence and body horror to new levels. This film is what Almodovar would have made if somebody had handed him the script for Hitchcock's Vertigo; he has replaced the romance and passion with clinical obession, the hidden motives and manipulation with obvious coercion, and the madness with cold hard insanity. It's Almodovar's version of horror; not very scary, just plain weird.

The old Almodovar does shine through, however, mostly in the cinematography; while not as vibrantly hued as usual, you can see his classic use of colour in the frequent spots of red which jump out of the otherwise quite monochrome screen, themselves reminiscent of the open wounds and surgical cuts which adorn the form of Banderas' unwilling yet submissive guinea pig (Elena Anaya). Plus, there's the mad interlude where a guy in a tiger costume shows up - perhaps he threw that in just to reassure everyone that he hasn't abandoned his signature style (loud, colourful, and camp). The music (Alberto Iglesias) is perfect, as ever. The Big Twist that comes about half way through the film is also classic Pedro; obviously I won't give it away, although if you know Almodovar's work it is a little bit transparent, and unfortunately I managed to twig it about ten minutes too early.

If you're expecting lots of surgically based gore, you won't get it; Almodovar's violence has always been, like Haneke's, subdued, understated, and all the more real and unsettling for it. This film is a new direction for the director, something a bit different and brilliantly done. I'd advise you to go and see it before Odeon wise up to the fact that it's costing them more to screen it than they're making in ticket sales (there were four people in my screening, including me) and take it off the bill. Unfortunately there ain't much demand for Spanish 'mind-fuck' cinema at your average English cineplex. Look at it this way; you'll be in an almost completely empty screen enjoying some excellent, exquisite, thought-provoking film while the hordes of whiny brats (who will soon be back at school, thank God) are all down the corridor seeing Cowboys and Aliens or some shit.

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