Pedro Almodovar is not a conventional filmmaker by any means. His films openly explore subjects many acclaimed directors fear to tread and absorb in their whole entire careers, but what is always guaranteed with Almodovar is a sense of wonderment and the unexpected, and The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) is no different. Based briefly on Thierry Jonquet’s 2003 novel ‘Mygale,’ Almodovar’s latest film is a delightful and refreshing combination of multiple genres including drama, thriller and body horror. It’s shockingly sincere, beautifully horrifying and has an appeal that will keep the audiences eyes locked towards the events on-screen until the final credits roll.
Dr Robert Lesgard (Antonio Banderas) is a renowned surgeon who is attempting to achieve a breakthrough in bio-medical sciences by creating a synthetic skin through transgenesis. Classified as a horrific mutation by some, and acknowledged by Robert as an innovation, his experiments come at a price. His human test subject is a beautiful woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) who is contained within his home, and cared for by his head servant Marilia (Marisa Paredes). Vera is not like other women, she wears a skin-colored suit made out of fabric instead of clothes, she is constantly watched by Robert and Marilia, and she never leaves her room, which only Robert himself holds the key too. What follows is a startling journey of discovery as the narrative unravels a story of disturbing past, present and future events; transforming the lives of all those involved.
Beginning in Toldeo in 2012, Almodovar utilizes a constantly underused and underappreciated device in the nonlinear narrative. He provides the audience with one perception of each character before returning in flashback during the second act to six years previously where further events are explained and through this, the audience’s initial observations of the characters become undermined and drastically altered. He then digresses between past and present at will building a comprehensive picture of each character involved as the story develops revealing some startling and disturbing discoveries. This decision to structure the film in this way, also adequately supplements Almodovar’s need to explore his key themes including sexual identity, and the nature of the moral of ethics of the human soul after it has been literally stripped bare.
Coupled with the beautiful cinematography from Almodovar’s long-time collaborator Jose Luis Alcaine and an original and complimentary score by Alberto Iglesias, The Skin I Live In also becomes an example of technically proficient filmmaking which works alongside the performances of the likes of Banderas and Anaya, as well as the slickly written script which keeps the audience on their toes until the final curtain has been dropped. Pedro Almodovar is undoubtedly one of the most successful auteurs of the last few decades, and with The Skin I Live In he shows that he can almost touch upon a new genre, in the form of body horror genre-hybrid, whilst also retaining all the previous elements, themes and techniques which have made his films the deep-seated critically successful films that they are.