Lowdown: An expert plastic surgeon holds skin experiments on a female patient he locks up in his house.
Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar is one of those directors I would do my best to watch whatever comes off his cameras. His are not my favorite films, but his are always interesting and original. The Skin I Live In, or La piel que habito as per its original Spanish title, is no exception. It is also unexceptional in the sense that like all the rest of the movies in Almodóvar’s portfolio, this is a film about women that’s made by a guy who is obviously obsessed with them.
Antonio Banderas gives the best performance I have seen of him as Robert, a brilliant plastic surgeon who is much appreciated by his peers. There is something werid about him, though, and that something is Vera, the woman he’s holding at a locked bedroom on the upper floor of his secluded and grandiose house (an Elena Anaya that provides yet another mesmerising performance for The Skin I Live In). Vera seems to be Robert’s wife, the victim of a vicious fire that resulted from a car crash. That car crash seems to have devastated her in more than one way; that is where Robert comes into the picture by conducting cutting edge and unethical experiments to give Vera new skin she can call her own.
Or is that the case? The Skin I Live In is one of those films that takes us through a journey to show us how our perceptions can be wrong. Our picture and our understanding of what it is, exactly, that is taking place at Robert’s house continuously changes as The Skin I Live In gradually unravels the tangled web of dark themes surrounding his characters. The result is a well told thriller with well developed character, well developed characters, and excellent film making. Yet again, Almodóvar manages to deliver a thinking person’s film.
With its dark themes, nudity and sex scenes, The Skin I Live In is not a children’s film. Nor is it a film for the faint hearted. There are many scenes in which viewers are taken way out of the comfort zone of a normal civilized human being. I found the first of those the most memorable/disturbing.
The renegade son of Robert’s housekeeper comes for a visit to Robert’s house while the owner is away. This comes down to that, and the visitor has his mother securely tied up with her mouth gagged as she’s facing the output of the surveillance cameras in Vera’s room. The son then goes to have rough sex with Vera while his mother is not even able to turn away from his picture.
The problem with The Skin I Live In, if you want to call it a problem, is that the film can be interpreted in so many ways I feel puzzled as to what Almodóvar was trying to tell us with this creation of his. That, however, is a rich film’s problem; it creates a thought provoking film that one will take a while to forget. For this, and for the excellent piece of filmmaking that The Skin I Live In is, I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.