The Skin I Live In - Almodovar's newest film

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Postby Sonic Youth » Thu May 19, 2011 10:08 am

The Skin I Live In
By Justin Chang
Variety


Pedro Almodovar has spent a career finding the pleasure in perversity, a talent that works both for and against "The Skin I Live In." The creepily convoluted tale of a plastic surgeon and his beautiful captive patient, Thierry Jonquet's novel "Mygale" turns out to be a neatly accommodating vessel for the Spanish auteur's pet themes and stylistic proclivities, and after the underwhelming "Broken Embraces," this Antonio Banderas starrer demonstrates enough signs of renewed vigor to ensure robust specialized returns. But despite its scalpel-like precision, pic falls short of its titular promise, never quite getting under the skin as it should.

Due to be released Stateside in November by Sony Classics, the film will open Sept. 2 in Spain, marking the first time Cannes vet Almodovar has premiered a film at the festival in advance of its local release. Decision to unveil "Skin" early admittedly runs the risk of leaking a crucial twist in this warped saga of rape, revenge, mental illness and superfluous surgery. Yet foreknowledge of what happens should, if anything, make the prospect of Almodovar's film that much more enticing for his fans, who are sure to embrace his signature Hitchcockian flourishes, byzantine plotting and mercurial view of sexual identity and desire.

A Toledo-based plastic surgeon working to devise a revolutionary human skin treatment, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas) lives, like most Almodovar characters, in a house distinguished by richly colored interiors and impeccable furnishings (courtesy of art director Antxon Gomez). His manse, however, has the added bonus of an operating theater and a beautiful woman locked away in an upstairs bedroom.

Kept under continual surveillance by Robert and his housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes), Vera (Elena Anaya) dwells in luxurious isolation. When she's not attempting suicide, she's trying to seduce Robert, a proposition the doctor entertains with a telling mixture of temptation and repulsion. Most of the time she's forced to wear a flesh-toned unitard that turns her body into a literal and figurative blank, allowing Robert -- and by extension, the viewer -- to project whatever fantasies they want onto her frequently supine figure.

An intrusion by an outsider initiates a turning point in Robert and Vera's none-too-healthy dynamic. It also kicks off the first of numerous flashbacks involving Robert's daughter (Blanca Suarez) and Vicente (Jan Cornet), a young man she met at a fateful party, establishing the devious circumstances under which Vera fell under the doctor's care.

Much as he did with Ruth Rendell's "Live Flesh," Almodovar has taken an ice-cold psychological thriller, penned by a novelist of far less humanistic temperament, and performed some stylistic surgery of his own, adding broad comic relief, overripe melodrama, outrageous asides and zesty girl-power uplift. The big reveal, when it arrives, is pure catnip for the helmer, enabling another of his madcap paeans to the supremacy of women and the fluidity of relational boundaries, and decisively positioning Vera, not Robert, as the true protagonist of this twisted tale.

Indeed, one can't quite shake the feeling that the director, having found an ideal vehicle for his sensibility, was unwilling to return the favor by fully embracing the inherent darkness of the material. Revelations that induced shudders of terror on the page have been softened or excised altogether, and the many surgical scenes, though meticulously prepared and beautifully shot by d.p. Jose Luis Alcaine, have none of the lingering clinical horror of, say, Georges Franju's classic "Eyes Without a Face." This gentler approach might have worked had the film delivered a compensatory rush of feeling, but "The Skin I Live In" gives short shrift to some of the story's most emotionally rich passages, particularly the long period in which Robert and his patient cement their unlikely bond.

Strong cast consists largely of Almodovar vets, led by Banderas (reteaming with the director for the first time in the 21 years since "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"), who makes Robert a fascinatingly seductive figure even as one recoils from the sick ends to which he takes his special gifts. Anaya ("Talk to Her") has to do little more than bask in the camera's appreciative gaze, which she holds effortlessly. Elsewhere, Paredes delivers a sharp turn as the domestic whose tart wisdom goes unheeded, while Cornet registers sympathetically as a young man unwittingly caught up in horrors beyond his control.

Alberto Iglesias' arresting score, marked by cacophonous violins and frenzied, weblike repetitions, musically conjures the spider-and-fly metaphor more explicitly detailed in Jonquet's novel.
"What the hell?"
Win Butler

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Postby Sonic Youth » Thu May 19, 2011 8:45 am

The Skin I Live In
19 May, 2011 | By Fionnuala Halligan
Screendaily

Dir: Pedro Almodovar. Spain. 2011. 116mins



Pedro Almodovar’s 18th feature - and the first to reunite him with Antonio Banderas since 1990’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down - finds the man from La Mancha in dazzlingly idiosyncratic form with a sexual melodrama which unites the visual austerity of his more recent work with elements of sheer Almodovarian entertainment.

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) sees the director working with his usual creative team - cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, production designer Antxon Gomez, and perhaps most notably, composer Alberto Iglesias - to distil their elegant and restrained art into an entertainingly preposterous story which is nudged even further along by Almodovar’s trademark gender preoccupations.

At times The Skin I Live In feels like rejuvenation for the 61-year-old director. Despite the dark theme, it boasts his confident playfulness of old. Recently Almodovar has referenced the great filmmakers in noir homages; here he mostly references himself and is, yes, at ease this time in his own skin.

Commercially, The Skin I Live In should play wide: it’s not as immediately accessible or dramatically compact as Volver, but All About My Mother could be the best commercial benchmark, aided by a revitalised Antonio Banderas. Fans of the director will be overjoyed after the chilly remoteness of Broken Embraces and reviews should be warm, although not everyone will respond whole-heartedly to the film’s relaxed attitudes to narrative and convention.

Adapted by Pedro and his brother Agustin from the crime novel Mygale (released in English-speaking markets as Tarantula) by Thierry Jonquet, The Skin I Live In is a long-awaited and much worked-upon reunification of the director with Banderas - first announced a decade ago - and while it seems inevitable that somebody would be tied up, everyone in The Skin I Live In is incarcerated in their own prison.

The action starts out in Toledo in 2012 and is centred around a finca called El Cigarral, austere home to eminent plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, veteran of no less than nine facial transplants. “The face defines us,” he tells an audience of academicians, revealing he has created a new skin named Gal, after his late wife.

We already know, at this point, that Robert has not achieved this breakthrough via conventional means. He maintains a full surgery in his house. He has a laboratory in his basement. He keeps a woman (Anaya) dressed head-to-toe in a compression garment in a windowless room while he spies on her, feeds her opium, and works on her skin transplant. Marisa Paredes is Marilia, his platinum-bewigged housekeeper, who reproaches him for “using the same face” and warns Robert: “If you don’t kill her, she’ll kill herself. They all do.”

Clinically shot in warm, glassy grays and flesh tones, The Skin I Live In appears to be moving along genre lines - despite notable visual flourishes such as the giant Titians and faceless Jorge Galindos adorning Robert’s walls alongside shots of bubbling petri dishes.

This all takes a marked turn into Almodovarian territory, however, when a man dressed as a tiger (it’s Carnival in Madrid) arrives at the gate, looking for his mother, Marilia, and identifies himself through the security cameras by a birthmark on his backside. Zeca (Alamo) has just burgled Bulgari and wants a face transplant. It appears he may have a dark history with Robert…and Vera, the woman pacing the room who looks remarkably like Robert’s wife.

The source material wasn’t called ‘Tarantula’ for nothing: about an hour into proceedings, Almodovar suddenly shoots a web back six years in time to a plot strand involving Robert’s dead daughter and a young boy called Vicente (the promising young Jan Cornet). But not before a delicious scene-setting monologue from Marisa Paredes which includes the memorable line: “I’ve got insanity in my entrails”.

To give any more away would be ruinous to the considerable pleasure derived from a fresh viewing of The Skin I Live In: suffice to say that waking up from an operation will never be the same again.

Visually marrying surgery with sex, Almodovar is the anti-David Cronenberg, providing unexpectedly provocative frissons in scenes involving the beautiful Anaya (Sex And Lucia). Her lithe physical presence also lends the film a sensual grace and form, helped by costumes from Paco Delgado, working with Jean Paul Gaultier.

Throughout The Skin I Live In, Almodovar references Louise Bourgeois, the artist and sculptor known as The Spiderwoman and the founder of confessional art; he thanks her in the credits for personal inspiration and for the character of Vera. And the trapped characters of The Skin I Live In pluck constantly at fabrics, straw, Vera’s alternating black-and-flesh-coloured suits, to express themselves in stuffed, ripped, doll-like sculptures.

In the film’s most beautiful marriage of sight with the escalating sounds of Alberto Iglesias’ Vivaldi-influenced soundtrack, Vera shreds her clothes before sucking them up in a bizarre vacuum; an escape bid is also pulse-quickening. Jazzy songs from flamenco fusion artist Concha Buika add melancholy to a late tragic interlude.

Supported by Almodovar’s regulars (Paredes, Broken Embrace’s Gomez, Alamo), Antonio Banderas flourishes in this return to Spanish-language film-making. As with Penelope Cruz, he’s never performed better than with Pedro. The Skin I Live In marks 22 years since Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. It’s worth the wait.
"What the hell?"

Win Butler

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Postby Sonic Youth » Thu May 19, 2011 7:34 am

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito): Cannes 2011 Review
by Kirk Honeycutt
Hollywood Reporter


CANNES -- As implausible as it might seem, the cinema world of Pedro Almodóvar just got stranger in The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito). Along with such usual Almodóvar obsessions as betrayal, anxiety, loneliness, sexual identity and death, the Spanish director has added a science-fiction element that verges on horror. But like many lab experiments, this melodramatic hybrid makes for an unstable fusion. Only someone as talented as Almodóvar could have mixed such elements without blowing up an entire movie.

With Antonio Banderas returning to the fold to play the mad-scientist protagonist, Sony Pictures Classics is assured that more than the Almodóvar faithful will show up for its North American release. Reactions will vary, as it’s hard to tell just how much of this is being delivered with tongue-in-cheek panache or how emotionally invested the auteur is in his Dr. Frankenstein character.

That doctor would be Banderas’ character, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon and university researcher. As befits his profession, Robert looks like he stepped out of the pages GQ. Yet his face conveys a sense of dark purpose. And he works out of a clinic in his own suburban, highly isolated and secure compound outside Toledo.

He presents colleagues with a paper indicating he has been researching the creation of a new and better, stronger skin that considerably bends the boundaries of bioethics. The audience by this point is well aware that confined within his mansion is a young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), who is being molded — there is no other word for it — to the doctor’s specific requirements. And that would be to largely resemble his late wife, who was burned beyond recognition in a car crash and chose to die rather than to live in such ruined skin.

Vera wears a skin-colored body stocking like a second skin and spends much of the time in a series of yoga positions. These help her to reach an inner core of selfhood the doctor can never touch.

Then a man in a tiger costume (Roberto Alamo) breaks into the house. He’s in tiger skin because it’s Carnival time, but you suspect Almodóvar would have found any excuse to put him into that costume to achieve the image of a tiger on the prowl for Vera.

There is first a sexual and then a violent encounter, which leads to revelations about the relationship between the doctor and the tiger-man, and between the men and Robert’s housekeeper (Marisa Paredes). Then the movie flashes back six years, which introduces two more characters, Robert’s daughter (Blanca Suárez) and a local youth (Jan Cornet) who sets his sights on the young, emotionally fragile woman while he is high on pills at a party.

To describe any further the story, written by Agustin and Pedro Almodóvar from a novel by Thierry Jonquet, would spoil several surprises. While Almodóvar is clearly rummaging through old films and film genres that by his own admission include Buñuel, Hitchcock, Lang and Franju as well as Hammer horror and Dario Argento kitsch, he mostly is going after the theme of identity. As the old saying goes, beauty is only skin deep, to which Almodóvar adds that skin can only encase one’s identity or soul. For the skin can change, the soul cannot.

Throughout the movie there are references to the French-born American artist and sculpture Louise Bourgeois — Vera looks through a book of her art — and the story picks up many of sculpture’s themes revolving around the human body and its need for nurturing in a hostile world and about the death or exorcism of the father figure.

For Robert is both a father figure and Frankenstein creator who seeks to dominate all women and eliminate male rivals. Yet Almodóvar treats him as “mad” and therefore not fully responsible for his villainy. He is the product of a twisted family and household. The women in his life — his wife, daughter and the guinea pig — all suffer because he has suffered. So Almodóvar’s embrace of his crazed characters is a tender one, full of passion and comic glee.

The film’s design, costumes and music, especially Alberto Iglesias’ music, present a lushly beautiful setting, which is nonetheless a prison and house of horror. Almodóvar pumps his movie full of deadly earnestness and heady emotions. There are well-timed laughs that lessen the melodrama and underscore that Almodóvar remains ever a prankster. No one is better at tying imagery to emotions, yet even Almodóvar realizes that, as Hitchcock would say, “It’s only a movie, Ingrid.”
"What the hell?"

Win Butler


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