Cannes 2011 Review: THE SKIN I LIVE IN

Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
May 23rd, 2011

Rating: 4/5

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writers: Pedro Almodóvar (screenplay), Thierry Jonquet (novel)
Cast: Antonio BanderasElena AnayaMarisa Paredes

Very few filmmakers can be referenced only by last name in popular culture: Spielberg, Tarantino, Malick.  However, this itself brings on certain qualitative and artistic expectations.

Luckily, Almodovar, I mean director Pedro Almodovar, more than delivered on both of these aspects with his latest film, the creepy as all hell, new age Frankenstein-like tale, THE SKIN I LIVE IN.

Based on the Thierry Jonquet novel, Tarantula, THE SKIN I LIVE IN is Almodovar’s attempt at a revenge thriller. The film follows the story of a plastic surgeon who attempts to hunt down the man who raped his daughter.  However, that premise does this film absolutely no justice, as it’s far more than that rather clichéd attempt at a narrative.

A blisteringly haunting look at obsession and betrayal, Almodovar has crafted a neo-Frankenstein tale in his latest effort. The film overall has many of the themes discussed in previous films from the Spanish auteur, as well as many of his stylistic cues, but may not be the film his fans expect.

THE SKIN I LIVE IN is an absolutely beautiful film, dealing with more than its fair share of topics (almost too many, as the narrative itself begins to get far more), and Almodovar is at the top of his game.  Each frame of this film is gorgeously blocked off, allowing the vibrantly decorated and photographed world, in all of its contrast fueled glory, really pop off the screen.

Also, as Almodovar’s most apparent thriller, the film basks in its brutality, of which there is far less than one would imagine.  However, no matter the amount of violence the film does or doesn’t, the film is beautifully brutal and brutally beautiful, giving the audience images that will be seared into their brains for nights to come.  Whether it be a man chained in a basement, or the dissolve of one face into another, Almodovar doesn’t allow a single shot to lose his auteur touch, making this unlike any revenge film you’ll see this year.

It also helps that the cast is top notch.

Antonio Banderas is award-worthy as Dr. Frankenstein himself, Robert Ledgard, the surgeon pushed to the edge.  His energy and kinetic nature as an actor really come through here, giving his switch from charming to vengeful a sense of reality that aids the film deeply.  Banderas lends a credibility to Ledgard that, had it been absent, would have left the film limp on the screen.

Marisa Paredes is equally as fantastic here as Marilia, Robert’s long time assistant, and definitely adds some class to this otherwise gritty and grungy sexually charged thriller. Elena Anaya, however, steals the show as Vera, Robert’s “doll,” who has a much different past than one would expect.  She’s absolutely gorgeous, but more over, she’s utterly believable as this wholly singular and distinct character, one that has been through quite a bit herself.  She holds her own against heavyweights like Banderas and Paredes, and honestly, steals many scenes right from under their noses. Toss in a wonderful score from oft-Almodovar contributor Alberto Iglesias, and you have the makings of what is a real gem of a thriller.

Overall, the narrative itself is a bit scatterbrained making it tough to follow for those who like to sit back and simply be told a story. But for those taking an active role in the watching of this film will be more than rewarded come its stunner of a final shot.  Unlike any thriller around, THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a wonderfully intense and truly creepy look at themes that Almodovar has been tackling throughout his career.  The only difference is, he’s allowing himself to have fun within a genre he hasn’t really explored.

And here’s to hoping this won’t be the last time that happens either.

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