The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)
Almodovar's adaptation is measured, playful and spellbinding
The Skin I Live In has all the elements of a campy Vincent Price B-movie. There is a meddlesome scientist driven mad by grief, a grisly revenge plot and a hapless victim, not to mention multiple murder, kidnap and rape. In the hands of Pedro Almodovar these stock ingredients are transformed into a macabre dance of death and desire that is all the more shocking for the sense of tightly controlled restraint that the director employs. This is gothic horror served with an icy precision.
Almodovar’s adaptation of the Thierry Jonquet novel Tarantula mixes together a lethal cocktail of influences from Mary Shelley to Eyes Without A Face, Edgar Allan Poe and Jacobean tragedy to the perverse romantic impulses of Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo. The changing tones are handled with such smooth aplomb that Almodovar makes it look effortless. He constantly works against the grain casting the dashing Antonio Banderas as a modern monster and staging poisonous plot twists with such deadpan aplomb that the scream of shock freezes in your throat.
Banderas is eminent plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, a pioneer in the creation of artificial skin. His human guinea pig is patient Vera (Elena Anaya) who is kept in elegant confinement and wears a flesh-coloured suit to protect herself from harm. Harm comes from all different quarters as Almodovar unleashes a typical spider’s web of intricately related flashbacks revealing the full scope of an extraordinary tale.
The less you know about the plot of The Skin I Live In the better. Part of the film’s appeal lies in the way that it leads you calmly by the hand through some appalling events and finds a haunting sadness at the heart of a horrific story. Measured, playful and spellbinding.
Selected release from Fri 26 August.