I'm not a diehard Pedro Almodovar fan but I do recognize that he is an important figure in modern cinema and, like I mentioned in my recent write-up on The Paperboy, he has a pretty unique visual style and that counts for something (when I think of his work, the term; "NEON-noir" comes to mind). But my issue with Almodovar's work is that in the last ten years or so, his films have become SO formulaic that I can practically predict half of whats going to happen in the story along with half of the characters we're going to see - the overly feminine gay male caricature, the transgender character, the religious figure (nun or priest or both) and the ridiculously handsome straight male lead. And at some point in his films, someone will be raped, the music will be overly dramatic, the colors in his films will be extra bright (we get it, Pedro - you like pink, orange & red) and half of the story will be told out of chronological order. I'm not the only person whose called Almodovar out on his recent predictability. Ever since Bad Education through Broken Embraces, there's been endless reviews that have complained about the very same thing.
At first glance, one would think Almodovar took these criticisms in to consideration with The Skin I Live In - there are no transgender characters this time around (...or so we think), for the first time in a while we get a gay female character instead of strictly gay men and Almodovar went back to working with his old collaborator; Antonio Banderas, after over two decades.
But in reality, The Skin I Live In is a middle finger in disguise from Almodovar to people like me and others who've complained about him in recent years.
He still recycles the same themes & elements but this time around he made it work and managed to make one of his best films since Talk To Her (almost 10 years ago). Not that The Skin I Live In is a game-changer (although it did make the top 10 in the honorable mention category of my 2011 wrap-up) but its still a major improvement from what he's been doing.
I'm not even offended by the middle finger Pedro Almodovar gave to all the critics. Its reminiscent of his early work (which, on some level, were carbon copies of John Waters' early films, but still...). It's a cliche statement, and it almost makes me cringe writing this but, Almodovar's early work was very "punk rock" and anti-establishment when compared to other classic Spanish filmmakers from the late 70's/early 80's. Instead of dealing with the impact Franco had on Spain in the same poetic/artsy way as Carlos Suara (Cria Cuervos) & Victor Erice (The Spirit Of The Beehive & The South), Pedro Almodovar pretty much jumped on a chair, pulled his dick out and slapped it against the camera lens as if to say; "There's gay people in Spain, we listen to loud noisy music, we dye our hair green and have free will!" As far as Spanish cinema goes, I prefer the work of Erice & Suara over Almodovar but I still respect him for not trying to be another slow "artsy" Spanish filmmaker. The Skin I Live In is FAR more mature than Labrynth Of Passion (1982) or Pepi, Luci & Bom (1980) but his approach is still the same - "Fuck you. I'll make what I want."
In The Skin I Live In, Antonio Banderas plays "Robert Ledgard" - a radical plastic surgeon whose invented a new type of artificial skin (imagine stockings for the whole body) specialized for burn victims. The inspiration for Ledgard's invention came from his wife who was badly burned in a car accident years ago leaving her almost unrecognizable (she eventually committed suicide after seeing her deformed face). In addition to his wife, Robert's teen daughter, who was mentally unstable, also killed herself after she was sexually assaulted. The death of Robert's wife & daughter, which both took place over the span of a few years, has caused him to go quietly insane. I say "quietly insane" because to the outside world he seems fine but behind closed doors he's losing his grip on reality and is working on a disturbing experiment that we slowly see unfold through the course of the film.
***SPOILER ALERT (skip ahead to the next paragraph if you haven't seen this and are planning too)***
As it turns out, Robert has been keeping a beautiful woman ("Vera") captive in his mansion and experimenting on her. But as the story unfolds we discover this woman was once a young man ("Vicente"). And not just any man. This was the same man who sexually assaulted his daughter which ultimately triggered her suicide. As a form of revenge Robert kidnapped and performed various surgeries on Vicente in an effort to transform him in to a woman (anatomy and all). However, during the transformation, Robert falls in love with his creation (he kinda made him/her look a little too beautiful) and forms a romantic relationship with the newly transformed Vera whose now suffering from a bit of Stockholm syndrome.
Although two different actors play the part (Elena Anaya for Vera & Jan Cornet for Vicente) Almodovar cleverly cast Cornet for the part of Vicente because his body frame is a tad bit small for an average man which makes the male to female transformation angle more believable (midway in to the film I found myself noticing how tiny he is but when its revealed that he's to be transformed in to a woman, it all made sense).
There's some underrated imagery in The Skin I Live In. Almodovar even throws in a Bergman/Persona reference...
I understand the revenge aspect of the story but once Almodovar throws in the love angel I get completely thrown off. One minute you want revenge on the person who raped your daughter and triggered her suicide then you end up falling in love with the very same person later on? I get that Vicente has been completely changed in to someone else but I thought this element of the story was a little strange.
Upon my initial (and only) viewing of The Skin I Live In, I wasn't sure if I liked this or not. It felt like an odd mixture of The Bride Of Frankenstein & Oldboy with a touch of Hitchcock. But over time I grew to appreciate it very much. The Skin I Live In is surprisingly darker than I thought it would be and Antonio Banderas' over the top acting, which is sometimes difficult to take seriously, fits perfectly with the tone of the film. It's as if he drew upon Dr. Mabuse, Caligari & Nick Cavanaugh (Boxing Helana) for inspiration.
For something directed by such a big name, The Skin I Live In certainly came and went pretty quickly in the U.S. I wrote about this from memory (I saw it over two years ago) so I guess that says something about the small impact it had on me. Almodovar seems to be returning to form with his latest film (I'm So Excited) which makes The Skin I Live In stand out more among his recent body of work. I'm always hesitant to say this when it comes to recent work of important modern filmmakers but The Skin I Live In may be one of Almosovar's best.