The Skin I Live In

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Since his emergence in the 80s, Pedro Almodóvar has firmly established himself as the standard bearer for Spanish cinema. A master of dark sexuality and the complexly psychological, he’s also frequently credited with kick-starting Antonio Banderas career; the actor’s turn in 1990 effort Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! garnering the Hollywood interest that set him on his way to international stardom.

With The Skin I Live In, the pair reunite for the first time since Tie Me Up! and for those more acquainted with Banderas’ lighter contemporary fare, his performance (and the film’s subject matter) might come as a bit of a shock.

Banderas stars as Dr Robert Ledgard, a brilliant surgeon consumed with anguish years after his wife was horribly burned in a car accident. Obsessed with creating bio-engineered, fire-resistant human skin, he performs his experiments in secret. His subject is the exquisite Vera (Elen Anaya), whom he holds captive within his sumptuous Toledo villa. As the film uncoils, we are transported back and forth through time, gradually learning more and more of Robert’s life, his pathos and his fury—Vera’s opaque identity always hovering tantalisingly in the background.

The Skin I Live In is real psychological horror. Virtually every human relationship in the film is fraught. A strange and constant friction runs through every interaction—a kind of free-floating threat that gives the film a constant low hum of dread. At its core is perversion, but not merely the popularised connotation pertaining to “sick” sexual predilections. This film is about perversion in a more clinical sense. For the characters in Almodóvar’s twisted play, love has been so painfully distorted by trauma, obsession and circumstance that it only survives in grossly corrupted expressions.

Being Almodóvar, the film is inevitably gorgeous—a necessary tonic against the profound ugliness that lays beneath the surface—and the performances are all utterly convincing. Ultimately, however, its Banderas’ show to steal and he dutifully obliges. His growing years are perfectly suited to the role and his portrayal of the profane Dr Ledgard is as good as anything he’s done.

A disturbing film, The Skin I Live In is not so much to be enjoyed as experienced. It’s the kind of movie that lingers over the rest of your week. I give it 4/5 weird dreams.

The Skin I Live in is released in selected cinemas December 26.

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