Original release: September 2nd, see 2011
Running time: 115 minutes
Writer and director: Pedro Almodóvar
Country of origin: Spain
Original language: Spanish with English subtitles
Cast: Antonio Banderas, site Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes
They’re never pleasant to watch and rarely do they have happy endings, but the rape and revenge thriller is a sub-genre of film that keeps us glued to the screen even when we can’t bear to look. Over the years these films have taken many different turns and in World Cinema we only have to look to Irréversible (2002) and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009) to see how filmmakers have tackled the issue of rape and the protagonist’s revenge. However, leave it to Pedro Almodóvar to offer something different with a story that dishes out a punishment to truly fit the crime.
As with Matador (1986), Almodóvar combines themes of sexuality and violence but adds questions about medical ethics and gender that were also touched on in Hable con ella (2002). Yet for those seeming similarities The Skin I Live In is a story that takes a few previously unexplored turns in the cinema of Almodóvar with its twists, turns and flashbacks.
At the centre of it all is a surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas). He’s done quite well for himself with his career and lives a comfortable lifestyle, but he’s obsessed with creating a new type of synthetic skin capable of withstanding damage or disease. It’s admirable really, but as Almodóvar takes us deeper into the story we begin to question not only Robert’s motives but also his sanity.
Having lost his wife some years before, Robert now keeps a young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), captive and under constant surveillance in his secluded mansion with the help of his servant Marilia (Marisa Paredes). Vera wears a skin suit and looks something like a modern-day Bride of Frankenstein or Christiane (Edith Scob) in Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage (1960), but as time goes by we see she’s not exactly desperate to get away from Robert.
Almodóvar then takes us back in time as he starts to reveal more about these characters. It’s here we start to learn about the tragic events leading up to Robert’s wife’s death but the twist comes when we look at Vera’s past and realise who she is and why Robert chose her.
With his sumptuous use of photography Almodóvar captures everything he needs to tell us about these characters; it’s erotic, horrifying and poetic. It’s also a film that’s hard to categorise, it’s not really a rape and revenge thriller, nor is it a horror or a drama. It’s simply the cinema of Almodóvar, a space where only his films exist; ripe with melodrama and brimming with sexuality that’s both repressed and raw.
He lays out a story in the time he needs while other directors might have trimmed off a few minutes here and there, compromising on what’s communicated during those silences between the characters in the film world and us in the real world.
As The Skin I Live In draws to a close, it leaves in its a wake a torrent of thoughts for us about whether or not we can really change who we are on the inside by changing what we look like on the outside. It also gives rise to discussions about medical ethics and how some of these wonder drugs and skin care treatments really reach the market, especially in the wake of the 2011 PIP breast implant scare. Above all though, it’s a film which proves there are many different ways to tackle the issue of rape and revenge in film without the film becoming one that’s so easily classified.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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