FilmNovember 3, 2011 at 6:33 am

Pushing Boundaries One Skin Cell at a Time

Almodovar’s latest draws us into its deepest, darkest lairs.

If nothing else, no one could ever make the mistake of accusing Pedro Almodovar, a man whose previous films have included incest, murder and comatose love affairs, of being boring. Rest assured, The Skin I Live In, the Spanish auteur’s latest offering, doesn’t do anything to change that notion. Rather, it ratchets his boundary–pushing style to the next level.

Antonio Banderas, in his first Almodovar film in over 20 years, stars as Robert Ledgard, an acclaimed surgeon who has succeeded in creating a near invincible version of human skin. Although he claims to have only experimented on mice, he actually tests all of his work on a woman he keeps locked in his home. This captive subject, Vera Cruz (Anaya), lives in near exile, only interacting with Ledgard and his faithful maid.

The director breaks up this narrative with periodic flashbacks to six years earlier, showing the tragic accident that inspired Ledgard’s current work as well as an attempted rape of his young daughter at a wedding reception. The seemingly divervent stories progress in pieces until they climax in the sort of horrifyingly amazing collision that Pedro Almodovar might as well trademark.

One of Almodovar’s greatest strengths is his ability to maximize his actors’ talents, and that gift carries The Skin I Live In. Banderas has never been better, alternately reprehensible and compassionate in a performance that holds the entire film together. Anaya, in what is surely an international star turn, morphs seamlessly from a powerless shut–in to a threat to everything Ledgard has created. The supporting cast is similarly strong, but these two actors carry the majority of the scenes and completely command the screen.

The film isn’t without its flaws, though. A subplot about Marilia’s convict son comes and goes relatively quickly and, arguably, adds more shock value than substance. Still, this is a small gripe and does little to detract from the overall entertainment value of the film. And, as expected, Almodovar manages to blend together an incredibly complex plot nearly seamlessly. His careful curation of each scene makes the film, in its entirety, seem nearly as crafted and stylized as Ledgard’s work in his lab.

This won’t go down as one of Almodovar’s best works, as it lacks the same airtight storytelling as Talk to Her or All About My Mother, but it’s so well–acted and refreshingly different from anything else that will come out this season, that it absolutely warrants a trip to the Ritz.

4.5/5 Stars
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya
Rated R. 117 min.
See if you liked: Biutiful (2010)

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