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The Skin I Live In - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Skin I Live In
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-

If there's any overriding quality consistent across all of Pedro Almodóvar's films, it's that they always look fantastic. Even when he's making you squirm, as in Talk to Her (2002), or even horrifying you (as occurs in The Skin I Live In), whatever is on screen is always presented with meticulous intention, and generally a feast for the eyes.

The Skin I Live In is no exception, even if several elements of the story are unusually unoriginal for Almodóvar. A mad scientist with a peculiar obsession with a victim/patient is hardly a new idea. Antonio Banderas gives Dr. Robert Ledgard a somewhat unsettling intensity, however, and does give his particular obsession a twist never seen before -- and it's a twist I won't reveal here, as it's part of the mystery of the story and a shock so jaw-dropping that it single-handedly kept me from writing this off as one of Almodóvar's lesser works.

Suffice it to say that Vera (Elena Anaya), the woman Robert keeps locked in a room in his house, wearing a body stocking, is far from who she seems to be. In fact, for the first half of the film, with memorably disorienting shots of Robert looking at her on a giant TV monitor, it's unclear who she seems to be, aside from a sort of guinea pig for Robert's medical work. He's working on skin grafts, rather obsessively since the death of his wife, who suffered severe burns all over her body after a car crash.

Such details are revealed cautiously, settling into the meat of the back story with carefully timed precision, so that for much of the film all we know is that Robert is surgically grafting high-heat-resistant skin onto Vera's body, but we don't know why she's locked in a room in his house. She appears to have been locked there a very long time, resigned to a fate she knows remains uncertain. She appears to develop a version of Stockholm Syndrome, although it's a while before we know whether or not it's sincere or a rouse.

Robert's mother lives in the house and works as housemaid. It's never quite clear how much she knows about where Vera comes from and why she's there -- only that she knows she's there. At one point she advises Robert to kill her. She does this even after a man in a Carnivale costume arrives while Robert is gone, reveals himself to be her son, finagles his way into the house, discovers the presence of Vera, and forces his way into her room and into her. The man mistakes Vera for someone else and she, for some reason, goes with it. It results in a rape that later is put in a drastically different context after key information is revealed.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the timeline jumps back six years. We are privy to slightly more information about Robert: he had a young adult daughter, and a young man working in a local clothing shop has interest in her. There is a misunderstanding regarding his intentions and his actions after they have an encounter in a garden in the middle of the night. For a little while, you wonder what the hell all this has to do with the woman locked in the room in the present.

As it turns out, it has a lot to do with it -- and is precisely what makes The Skin I Live In Almodóvar's breed of unique entertainment. This is a man who can throw several different genres into the mix together and come up with something still all his own. Much of the credit goes to the editing, as it's specifically the manner in which the story unfolds that makes it work so well. I found it particularly satisfying because I was feeling a little lost until that key twist in the plot, which then suddenly made everything fall neatly into place. I can't ask for much more than to leave the theatre feeling satisfied by a well-spun story.

Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya navigate a peculiar space in THE SKIN I LIVE IN.

Overall: B+
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