The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)

Spain (2011) Dir. Pedro Almodóvar

Brilliant plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is developing a synthetic skin which can withstand heat and other types of everyday damage following the death of his wife who was burned beyond recognition in a car accident six years earlier. Robert’s test subject is the flawlessly beautiful Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) who is cooped up in a large room and is spied on via security camera by Robert and his maid and mother Marilia (Marisa Paredes). The scientific community is already sceptical about Robert’s activities, unaware of the chilling truth behind the nature and motivation for Robert’s work.

The most recent outing from legendary Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar is based loosely on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet and while is a departure of style for Almodóvar, it still bears many of his trademark features, including his stalwart theme of motherly love. Noticeably absence is Almodóvar’s witty humour and colourful flair, replaced instead by a dark and almost disturbing lust for human indecency.

We are lead to believe that the arrangements between Robert and Vera are relatively settled but Marilia views Vera askance, noticing her uncanny resemblance to Robert’s late wife Gal. As usual nothing is given away at the start but when the revelations come we are treated to not one but two upsetting twists. During a flashback scene we learn of the tragedy of Robert and Gal’s daughter Norma (Blanca Suárez) who was raped during a wedding by a young pill popper named Vincete (Jan Cornet) and subsequently suffered a breakdown and was hospitalised.

To go any further would be to spoil things but suffice to say the twists are very much classic Almodóvar and probably his most upsetting to date. Once they are out in the open you will watch the remainder of the film with an unnerving eye yet will no doubt wonder how Almodóvar managed to pull off such an emotional and touching finale.

Almodóvar is reunited with Banderas after 21 years and, as he has done with Penelope Cruz (the original choice for the role of Vera), brought out an incredible performance from him which no Hollywood director has yet to do so. Even wearing a mask, bodysuit and with her head shaved Elena Anaya still manages to radiate a fresh beauty.

Fans of Almodóvar will certainly notice the change in tone yet will still “get it” while those unfamiliar with him will find this quite the shocker for other reasons.