Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Skin I Live In

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
2011. Rated R, 120 minutes.
Antonio Banderas
Elena Anaya
Jan Cornet
Roberto Álamo

Blanca Suárez
Susi Sánchez
Bárbara Lennie
Eduard Fernández

If you’re familiar with the work of director Pedro Almodóvar then, like me, you’ve seen some wonderfully warped films. Strained relationships between parent and child is one commonly occurring aspect. Others are betrayal and sexual identity. Though the two are always present, they don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another. Their importance to each tale varies. The stories are expertly told psychological dramas at their core and branch out into mysteries, revenge fables and other tragedies. The Skin I Live In both follows suit and ups the ante by including elements of horror.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas) is a popular and wealthy surgeon working on something very important. During a lecture, he informs them he’s been successful in creating an artificial skin that is resistant to burns and insect bites. He says this is integral to the field of reconstructive surgery for burn victims and people with skin disorders. He also tells them he’s been testing this on lab mice with amazing results. However, we learn that he’s really been testing this on a woman he’s been keeping captive in a room adjacent to his bedroom at his estate. Her name is Vera (Anaya) and, perhaps understandably given the circumstances, she’s suicidal.

It is instantly apparent that the two have developed an odd relationship. He watches her from his room, operates on her when needed and seems to genuinely care for her. Though willing to kill herself, she appears on the verge of Stockholm Syndrome, either falling in love with her captor or cunningly making a play for her escape. Through Robert’s trusted servant Marilla, played by Almodóvar regular Marisa Paredes, that Vera bears a possibly unhealthy resemblance to his late wife. To say anything more would be spoiling things.

Trust me, the stuff that follows deserve not to be spoiled. Our journey is a winding trail down the path of the bizarre. Emotions, motives and desperation repeatedly collide with disastrous results. The ethics of any of these people is shaky at best, to begin with. They get completely tossed aside in favor of easing one’s own pain.

To say things spiral out of control is a massive understatement. It would be more accurate for me to say The Grand Canyon is just a hole. The degenerating lives of these people keep us watching in wide-eyed and slack-jawed amazement. Even after we figure out the massive twist about midway through, we just have to know where this is going. When we finally get to the last scene, the depth of all that has occurred to that point sinks in. It’s a moment that the people involved need to be a happy one, but it’s far more chilling and completely beyond the scope of their comprehension.

Through it all, Antonio Banderas gives a superb performance. He’s morose, yet oblivious to the fact since he’s secure that what he’s doing will bring about happiness for all involved. Even as Marilla warns him and pleads with him, he’s dismissive of the idea he could be in the wrong. His logic is simple: Trust me, I’m a doctor and I know what I’m doing. Paredes as Marilla and Anaya as Vera are similarly brilliant making this a very well-acted movie.

If there is a drawback to TSILI is that for some viewers, the envelope is pushed too far. Not merely strange, things can get repulsive at multiple points along the way. Sometimes one already loathsome act becomes worse in retrospect. For instance, there is a rather graphic rape scene. In itself, it could be difficult to sit through. Thirty minutes later, after we’ve gleamed more details, it becomes even more horrific. To put it bluntly, if you’re not already a fan of Almodóvar’s work you may be in for the shock of your life. If you can get past that, you’ll find a terrifically twisted tale that’s uncomfortable in a good way. Then again, you may not make it through the whole thing, wish you’d never started and say a prayer for all of us sick souls singing its praises.

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