10 December 2011 | Rockwell_Cronenberg
A full-on masterpiece.
Pedro Almodovar has created a daring and entirely unique masterpiece, a word that I do not use lightly or often. The Skin I Live In has a lot that of aspects that feel very Almodovar, but there's also a lot of Cronenberg here as well, and with the latter being my favorite director it's no surprise that I fell in love with it quickly. The film is a startling, wild study into a world of obsession, revenge and the complexities of the human flesh. Almodovar has really outdone himself here, crafting a tale of wicked intensity and rarely met eccentricity.
The structure here is one of it's more interesting aspects and yet another film this year that isn't told in a strictly linear fashion. We first meet Doctor Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) in the present day, as he works tirelessly on perfecting a new skin for his subject, the young and beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya). Almodovar establishes us in this present day world, complete with a very Almodovar subplot (a man in a tiger suit comes to the house and brings some trouble) and a lot of baggage for Ledgard. We get to know these people, become intrigued by what brought them to their current state and that we jump back six years to explore this character further.
It's a surprising jump and I must admit that it got me off guard at first, but as we spend more and more time in the past building up to the present I slowly came to terms with what Almodovar was doing. He gave us a stake in the present day world so that when he took us into the past it becomes about more than just laying out the facts. We already have a perception on Ledgard and a curiosity into understanding the events that bring him to where we met him, so the film becomes as much of a fascinating game of putting these puzzle pieces together as it is a character study and all-around masterwork of high drama.
Slowly the pieces start to come together and I found myself constantly trying to figure out what happened in this world, how these events in the past connect to the present day we were introduced to. When we finally get our answer...stunned...amazed...jaw-unhinged...none of these words can even begin to describe what happened to my mind. This is a twist that doesn't exist for shock value by any means but absolutely sent me to the floor, one of the most shocking and unexpected moves in cinema history as far as I'm concerned. It threw me for a major loop and everything I had come to perceive about these characters and their world was altered in an instant. Everything became a thousand times more fascinating and complex with the use of one simple word.
As I said before, this is a piece of the most miraculous and bold high-drama, a world where anything is possible but nothing feels out of place. That is perhaps the most shocking aspect of the film itself, that Almodovar gives us a story filled to the brim with melodrama but none of it feels contrived or too weird or too much. Everything feels totally natural and believable in the world that Almodovar establishes for us. His ability to make this happen is nothing short of extraordinary. Of course he doesn't do it alone and there are a lot of other aspects to the film that contribute to making it work on every conceivable level, to bring us into this incredible world.
Of course there are the performances, which are just a dream on their own. I've never been a fan of Antonio Banderas and I've honestly been hesitant to watch films just based on his involvement, but he delivers something here that I never knew he was capable of. Ledgard is an incredibly difficult character to pull off because our perception of him changes drastically throughout the film, but Banderas masters it without a single hitch. There was never a false move, never a moment where I didn't believe this character was capable of doing what he was doing. He is charming, intelligent, deranged and intimidating, unfolding layer after layer as we go on. It's a remarkable achievement in both character and performance. The other performances work very well to support Banderas and Almodovar's work here, particularly from the absolutely gorgeous Elena Anaya. She is all things sympathetic, manic, intriguing and sensual and when we come back to the present day after understanding what brought her to this place, she takes on a whole new life of internal chaos and complexity. For all of her outward expression it becomes a very internal performance and she is sensational here.
The technical aspects are all on key, all of them impressing without taking the spotlight away from the story, but the one thing that really left a mark was the phenomenal score. If it wasn't for Hanna, this score would be a runaway victory for my personal win right now. Rarely have I seen music so well-utilized for the atmosphere a director strives to establish. The high-wire drama meets it's ally with this music, a soaring operatic work that brings us into this world so completely. It swept me away and completely engulfed me in this world that Almodovar established. The score is a perfect fit for the film because it captures exactly what the overall product is; a brilliant and original opera of miraculous proportions. This is one of those films that I wasn't expecting a lot from and it just blew me away at every level.