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The Skin I Live In

November 7, 2011

The Skin I Live In (2011)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Actors: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet

The-Skin-I-Live-In-300x180.jpg (300×180)

Synopsis: A beautiful woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), is kept imprisoned in the secluded compound of renowned surgeon, Dr Ledgard (Antonio Banderas). When Vera escapes, it forces Ledgard to reflect back on his life – when his wife and daughter committed suicide, and he took a terrible revenge on his daughter’s would-be rapist….

Review: Pedro Almodóvar’s latest effort is arguably the culmination of a trend in his more recent work to fetishise the human body and place a (predominantly gay) gaze over the male and female form. Unfortunately, despite the undoubted ingenuity of Almodóvar’s initial idea for The Skin I Live In, I can’t help but feel a nagging sense of the ‘law of diminshing returns’ from this, his latest effort. I don’t know if it’s because I’m now over-familiar with the Almodóvarian brand (the high melodrama, the love of little cine-homages, the interest in transgressive sexuality), or perhaps that where Almodóvar is normally the master narrator, he goes largely awry with his storytelling here.

A lot of The Skin I Live In feels like a flimsy device around which he’s pinned his sensational sex-change revelation. The backstory in the narrative which is intended to give the film its necessary sense of tragedy and pathos (Dr Ledgard kidnaps a boy, implicated in the would-be rape of his now deceased daughter) is chronically underwritten and too implausible. And before someone tries to argue that Almodóvar is fashioning a form of anti-narrative or an ironic view on proceedings, well it looks conventionally dramatic to me (taking aside the atypical subject matter) as he finishes quite emphatically on the supposed cathartic moment when Vicente returns to see his mother and friend, having finally escaped from his kidnapper. As mentioned earlier, there are always other facets to appreciate in an Almodóvar film, and here there are clear references in plot and costume to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho, and he loves thematising the notion of looking and voyeurism with reminders that Vera’s ‘perfect’ body is under constant watch in Ledgard’s surveillance-heavy chateau. Ultimately though, it’s the relative tameness with which Almodovar uses his potentially fascinating central plot hook, and the feeble sentimental pay-off he engenders at the film’s climax, which mars the overall end-result. (November 2011)

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