THE SKIN I LIVE IN. Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes. Directed by Pedro Almodovar. 117 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (Strong sexual violence, sex scenes, violence and coarse language).
It is only in the latter part of this film that we discover (are shocked) to discover the identity of the I of the title. We are wondering why we are being shown particular events as the film moves from present to past and back, and then it suddenly makes sense. But, of course, one has to see the film to experience the meaning of the whole film.
Pedro Almodovar has been Spain’s leading director for more than two decades. His films are usually flamboyant, colourful (bright colours often enough), emotional and melodramatic. This one is no exception. In fact, by the end we realise just how melodramatic it is.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Antonio Banderas appeared in a number of Almodovar’s films, a strking screen presence. Then Hollywood lured him away. He has returned to his mentor in the role of a professor, a doctor who lectures but who also has a laboratory and assistants for experimenting with skin tissue. While Banderas looks handsome and urbane, not someone that we would immediately discern as a variation on Dr Frankenstein, it soon emerges that he has a human subject for his experiments, a young woman whom he keeps solitary, who resents him. It is only the housekeeper (Almodovar veteral, Marisa Paredes) who has access to his patient. The housekeeper also has her secrets.
Just when we have come to terms with all of this (plus an intrusion and attack by the housekeeper’s criminal son) and have learned that the doctor’s wife was killed in an accident some years earlier and that that has had a traumatic effect on his daughter, we are taken back six years. We see the doctor coping with his wife’s death, and his attempts to keep her alive. We also see the shy daughter at a party where she is hit on by a young man who works with his mother in a clothing store.
And that is probably all a reviewer should reveal of the plot.
As indicated earlier, we are left puzzling about the connection between the past and the present and the motivation that drives the doctor, which becomes more perverse as we move back to the present.
While the film has many common themes from other Almodovar films, especially his portraits of women, especially the fine and challenging Talk to Her, this is serious in tone but presented in a highly theatrical and melodramatic style (more Mediterranean than that of colder climates).
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out December 26, 2011.