How do you get a good movie by throwing together Frankenstein's monster, Stockholm syndrome and the kinkiest tiger suit known to mankind? Ask Pedro Almodóvar, he can do it in his sleep. And that's exactly what he did (albeit not in his sleep) with The Skin I Live In, one of the wackiest tales of revenge I have ever come across. As expected, the aforementioned tiger suit was only an indication that Spain's most important filmmaker was just getting warmed up. Hit the jump for my full review of The Skin I Live In, which was released on DVD in the UK on 26 December 2011, which will be in South African movie theatres this Friday 20 January 2012, and which hits DVD in the USA on March 6th.
In The Skin I Live In, Pedro Almodóvar reunites with one of his early favourites - Antonio Banderas - for the first time since the awesome and equally kooky Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! in 1990. However, this time Banderas is not Ricky, the mental patient who is in love with a porn star, he is Robert, the eminent plastic surgeon with vengeance in his heart. He is accompanied by a cast of colourful characters that only Almodóvar could conjure, including Marilia (Marisa Paredes), who has, I quote, insanity in her entrails; Vera (Elena Anaya), who has the most perfect skin in the world; and Norma (Blanca Suarez), who has social phobia the likes of which you will never see. Due to traumatic events in his past, Robert is obsessed with creating the perfect synthetic skin, one that can resist anything from fire to malaria. However (as stated in the synopsis) he needs three things apart from years of study and experimentation to do so: "no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig..."
What follows is a dark and twisted ride that is in one sense a far cry from Almodóvar's usual fare, yet in another the ultimate expression of everything that makes his work so instantaneously recognisable. It's a thriller with elements of medical and body horror, kidnapping, revenge and even torture porn, but imprinted with Almodóvar's customary trademarks which are only amplified by the fact that The Skin I Live In is much more of a genre film than his previous work: colourful visuals, pop-arty residences, strong female characters, gender issues, melodrama and bizarre plot twists. The solo vocal performance makes its appearance again as well (perhaps hearkening back to his days as one half of music duo "Almodóvar & McNamara"), this time powerfully delivered by Spanish singer Concha Buika during one of my favourite scenes.
So what then of arguably Almodóvar's greatest talent: the ability to direct actors? Perhaps Antonio Banderas has turned in a decent performance since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! way back in 1990, but if he has, it does not immediately come to mind. Fear not, although it has taken more than twenty years, he has reunited with his old cadre and finally delivered a fantastic performance once more. That being said, the film, in typical Almodóvar fashion, belongs to the women. Perhaps his most frequent collaborator, Marisa Paredes, was in fine form with a powerful and moving turn as Marilia, Robert's housekeeper. And, saving the best for last, the flawless Elena Anaya was the perfect choice to play Vera Cruz, the story's central character.
Apart from the rather puzzling subplot involving Zeca in his tiger suit (I need to see the movie again to figure out whether it really was necessary or if it just added kink value), The Skin I Live In is Pedro Almodóvar at his very best, and the result of blending his powerful brand with Cronenbergian horror (amongst other things) is a spectacular one. As stated in many other reviews, he really is the only guy who could direct a story as bizarre as this without totally buggering it up.
8.5 out of 10.