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Cannes 2011

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The Skin I Live In

Posted on Thursday May 19, 2011, 10:34 by Damon Wise in Cannes 2011
The Skin I Live In

After yesterday's disappointment with Melancholia, I'm very, very glad to report that Pedro Almodovar's latest is one of his strongest in years. Called The Skin I Live In, it stars Antonio Banderas – who last worked with the Spanish legend on Tie Me Up Tie Me Down (1990) – as a plastic surgeon with, shall we say, a very dark secret. It's hard to know what to reveal and what not to reveal, since this is a film that's packed with plot and detail. Perhaps it's simply safe to say that when we first meet Banderas's character, the inscrutable Robert Ledgard, he is an ambitious and perhaps even ruthless scientist, who is pushing for the use of “transgenesis” – a form of genetic engineering – and in particular a new, synthetic skin that will be tougher than the human kind and impervious to mosquito bites. Robert lives in a remote home-slash-clinic with his housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes)  and the beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya), who wears an all-in-one skin suit and never leaves her room. But who is Vera? There are plenty of red herrings delivered throughout, but the best way to approach this film is cold: you need to let it unfold.

I wasn't sure at first which way Almodovar was going, but the surprise is that it's going in many different directions all at the same time. The opening scenes are somewhat gothic, replete with an old dark house setting (all that's missing is a thunderstorm), and the housekeeper's story is just the first of many surprises. From here, the film transitions into a Hitchcockian (or is it giallo-style?) thriller, filmed with Almodovar's usual gorgeous palette, here looking perhaps a bit more like the shadowy Roger Corman films of the early 60s (the Edgar Allen Poe cycle) than his recent Technicolour fiestas. Is Corman a reference here? Could be, since The Skin I Live in also a film buff's dream, starting with a direct nod to Georges Franju's Eyes Without A Face and ending with a little joke about Robert Aldrich that managed to bring the house down even at its most tense.

The great thing about this film is that Amodovar has finally found a way to make his style work within noir/thriller conventions. I found Bad Education too knowing, Broken Embraces too slight, but The Skin I Live In not only works as a genre piece it also recalls the early, funny movies from the heyday leading to Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Of course, the plot is berserk, but who cares? Banderas is at a career high here, and Anaya plays a complex part brilliantly while projecting an appearance of passive, stunning beauty. Almodovar has been robbed of the Palme D'Or many times, but if he doesn't win this year, there better be something brilliant to beat it.

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