Let’s face it (no pun intended), whether you’re seeing it in factual or fictional content, facial surgery is a sight to be winced at. From 1960’s Eyes Without a Face to 1997’s Face/Off, this very subject is continuously a fascinating one (even The Simpsons tackle this in an episode featuring Sideshow Bob). Now, acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar takes a slice on the subject (again, no pun intended).
Loosely based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula, the story centres on plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (played by Antonio Banderas) who has created a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. Secretly living in his estate is Vera (Elena Anaya), who is a guinea pig for Robert’s experiments. Following an unexpected visit, the past lives of these two individuals are revealed.
Story-wise, this could have been a B-movie horror, but in the hands of Almodovar, it is “a horror story without screams or frights”, as the director describes it. For the first half of the film, what we see is a Frankenstein story with a sense of Hitchcock-styled suspense as Robert is all about obsession while Vera is one of beauty and mystery, but together the relationship is perhaps even stranger. Halfway through when the secrets are established and big plot-points ahoy, the story becomes more melodramatically off-the-wall and as the viewer, you have no idea where it’s going.
Although this is the closest to horror and perhaps sci-fi for the director, Almodovar still obtains his usual traits of sexual identity, betrayal and death; so for those who are Almodovar enthusiasts will feel right at home with this psychological thriller. With its bizarre turns, The Skin I Live In will not be for everyone, particularly when one infamous sequence which is all about physical transformation.
Reuniting with the director after twenty-one years and following recent uneven work, Antonio Banderas is in top form here. With his Frankenstein-like presence, his performance is so sinister that he becomes a very unsympathetic figure, despite his tragic past. As for Banderas’ co-star, Elena Anaya (clearly one of the most beautiful things to come out of Europe) is the standout as the yoga-flexing Vera, who seems like a modern interpretation of those classic Hitchcock heroines, but as the story progresses, her identity is more than just beauty.
Strange but alluring, surreal but stunning, Almodovar takes the premise of a B-movie horror and turns it into something artistic and thrilling, along with two astonishing central performances.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: PEDRO ALMODOVAR
STARRING: ANTONIO BANDERAS, ELENA ANAYA, MARISA PAREDES, JAN CORNET
RUNTIME: 117 MINS APPROX.