Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Skin I Live In (Rhoades)

“The Skin I Live In”
Is Deliberately

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

My friend Dave is a retired plastic surgeon. He knows how to do butterfly stitches that don’t leave a scar, implants that change the contour of a face, and skin grafts. I hope he will go see “The Skin I Live In,” the new film by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. It’s about a plastic surgeon who turns into sort of a demented Dr. Frankenstein.
Not that Dave will identify with Dr. Robert Ledgard, the physician played by Antonio Banderas (“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” “Puss In Boots”). But he may have some thoughts on the burn-resistant artificial skin that Dr. Ledgard has invented. It worked well on mice. Now, how about on a human being?
Well, Dr. Ledgard just happens to have one handy, a beautiful woman he’s holding captive in his palatial mansion in Toledo, Spain. Video screens hang like paintings throughout the estate allowing him to keep watch on her. She’s dressed in a full-body cat suit the color of pale skin, making her look at first glance like a classic nude odalisque canvas by Ingres.
This test subject named Vera is played by Elena Anaya (“Van Helsing,” “Sex and Lucia”). Director Almodóvar had planned to use Penelope Cruz in this role, but scheduling conflicts arose. Frequent collaborators, Almodóvar was largely responsible for transforming Cruz into a screen goddess.
Dr. Ledgard is assisted in his experiment by a loyal housekeeper (Marisa Paredes). She understands what drives the doctor. Twelve years ago his wife was horribly burned in a car crash, like a “cinder” as she describes it. That led to the wife’s suicide. So our doctor is driven to find a cure.
Or is there more to the story?
Yes, indeed. How Vera came to be locked in this bright, modernistic room is the key to the mystery. Ledgard’s daughter Norma (Blanca Suarez) and a young man named Vicente (Jan Cornet) figure into the puzzle.
Some viewers have described “The Skin I live In” as an existential mystery. Others have called it a psychosexual thriller. And still others have pegged it as a medical horror film. The New York Times termed it a polymorphous extravaganza, whatever that is.
Is it a horror film? “I myself am reluctant to label it that way,” says Pedro Almodóvar. “You have to be careful because to hardcore horror fans this will seem like a very strange movie, and I don’t want to disappoint people. But in essence, yes, it is a horror film.”
With a mad genius like Almodóvar (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”) you can expect a film that’s weird, dark, and sometimes funny. He became a leading light of La Movida, the pop cultural movement that blossomed in Spain during the late ’70s. Himself gay, Almodóvar’s films often present strong female characters and transsexuals. Winner in the end, Vera fits this mold.
This film is a reunion, the first collaboration between Almodóvar and his former regular cast member Banderas in 21 years.
“No one played the male characters I wrote in the 1980s better than Antonio Banderas,” says the pudgy director. “But here I didn’t want to repeat what we had done before. I wanted to drain Antonio’s face of all expression and emotion, which is difficult for an actor to do. But his disposition was exactly the same as it used to be, and he gave me the confidence to push forward.”
“The Skin I Live In” (Spanish title: “La piel que habito”) is loosely based on a story by crime novelist Thierry Jonquet called “Mygale” (meaning “Tarantula”). The film is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.
When a colleague tells Ledgard “You’re insane!” the doctor seems to accept the diagnosis. Banderas, with his weary countenance, is no longer the happy-go-lucky nice guy that inhabits so many of his performances. Here, he allows us to burrow deep under his skin to see the darkness there.
Psychosexual thriller? Mystery? Horror film? It’s all of these. Or you could simply call it a skin flick.
 [from Solares Hill]

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