The newest film from impresario Pedro Almodavar takes a scalpel to the horror film and cuts a large gash in the genre. It is in turns contrived, bizarre, nauseating, extraordinary, sumptuous, symphonic and disturbing. The story of an over-zealous plastic surgeon and his coterie of women, it invites its audience to think about ideas of beauty, femininity, rape and family. Almodavar’s skill is that you never feel sure about any of his characters, they are lovable, desirable, deeply flawed and insanely watchable, but they do not let you judge them. The pleasure taken in watching them seems to light a match to any decision you might make about just who is to blame for everything that happens. The violence of the film works at a similar knife edge. It is graphic and disgusting but also somehow beautiful. Like the mad doctor, we are invited to gaze and gaze at his beautiful captive Vera.
Antonio Banderas is a sight to behold himself. He plays a creature of delicious depravity and manic justice, as though he were born to (it is hard to align this man with the swashbuckling hero of the Zoro films). He is frighteningly calm and collected, simultaneously terrifying and tragic. And yes, a delight for the eyes and ears, Spanish is rich and rolling in his mouth. His counterpart, the beautiful Elena Anaya, is miraculous. She is entirely believable in a role that seems to be the embodiment of pure fantasy. She commands the screen with only her eyes, terrified, vacant, pleading.
The Skin I Live In is less carnivalesque and colourful than Almodarvar’s earlier films, less manic and messy but just as hyper-real, histrionic and compelling. It does stray into the realms of being a mad parable at times, with some of the situations appearing a little too academic. There are points which seem to scream for analysis by a film or gender studies student. He directs our attention rather heavy-handedly to the male obsession with the female figure, the destructive and controlling male gaze, female complicity and dishonestly, self-love, self-loathing. This is underlined by the presence of books on Louise Bourgoise and Alice Munro in Vera’s bedroom. More than anything though this is a gripping and exhilarating film, go and see it, but maybe not on a first date .