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Review: The Skin I Live In (2011)

by Nick Martin – Staff Writer

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Best Bad Quote: “Back to the present!”

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‘The Skin I live in’, the second collaboration between Spanish director pedro Almodovar and the once-Zorro, Antonio Banderas, is a bold, captivating and thought provoking film, played out by an extremely talented cast to a backdrop of beautiful locations and a haunting soundtrack.

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It is also a complete and utter headfuck.

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Set in Spain (naturally) in the near future of… next year (2012), the film is a loose adaptation of controversial novel ‘Tarantula’ by Thierry Jonquet, and follows the quiet life of Dr. Robert Ledgard, a brilliant surgeon still mourning the tragic death of his beautiful wife 12 years ago. So far, so normal, right? Well, this is where it all get’s a bit Human Centipede-ish, because Robert’s house is not just home to his vast collection of medical journals, oh no. Upstairs, locked away in a room serviced only by a dumb waiter, is the mysterious Vera, prisoner of Dr. Ledgard and unwilling guinea pig for his numerous experiments in creating ‘Indestructible skin’ (a tribute to the deceased ball and chain, victim of a horrific car accident).

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This is about all I can really give away without ruining the major twists of an extremely twisted film. The bizarre sexual tension between captor and captive fuels the majority of the present day narrative, while the truly shocking and horrific portion of the narrative (basically the lions share of the film) plays out in flashbacks, charting the capture of Vera, and her gradual transformation over the years.

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As I said before, it is an expertly directed and brilliantly acted work of art. Elena Anaya is captivating as Vera, flicking between wide eyed innocence and tortured psychosis seemlessly, and projecting a brooding sexuality made all the more impressive by the fact that she is wearing a supremely creepy body stocking throughout. Banderas is similarly impressive, portraying melancholy and desperation so effortlessly you almost forget he usually brings home the bacon by voicing cartoon cats.

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The direction too is excellent. Utilising lingering and expertly arranged shots, Almodovar drapes tension across each scene like sheets over furniture, and builds them naturally to shocking scenes that reveal just enough to make you’re skin feel as though it’s going to crawl right off your body. (Case and point; the mirror scene. You’ll know what I mean). Technically, the film is a ‘How to’ of daring, arthouse cinema. However, it is not in the film making that the problem lies, oh no. It is in the flashback scenes.

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To say that these scenes prove to be difficult viewing is like saying that Jason Voorhees has a slight problem with socialising. These are truly grimace-inducing, peeping-from-behind-your-fingers moments that will cause more physical discomfort than all of the Saw films combined, and more emotional distress than watching the ‘Big Momma’s House’ trilogy back to back. Unfortunately, I can’t give away any more detail than that without ruining the film’s story (and it really is quite captivating, if you can concentrate through all the squirming), however let’s just say that you’ll be saying to yourself ‘no, it can’t be’ repeatedly, right up until the horrific point when you realise ‘yes, it is.’

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If you want to run the risk of not sleeping for a few days afterwards, then I would whole-heartedly recommend this film. Despite one or two unnecessary plot excursions (guy in a tiger costume, what are you doing in Antonio Banderas’ house?), and a few moments of translation-induced accidental comedy (namely a cue card that reads ‘Back to the present!’, and a very serious conversation between two esteemed surgeons that repeatedly throws in the C-word for no apparent reason), this film delivers a haunting rumination on grief and obsession that helps to remind us that between coughing up furballs, Antonio Banderas can execute dramatic roles with the best of them. To conclude, if you want to see a truly original and twsited piece of Spanish cinema, check this film out. Just don’t expect to be able to do anything afterwards for a very long time.

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Rating:

4 out of 5 Psychotic Surgeons

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