The Skin I Live In, Almodóvar’s stirring dramatic horror
On Oct. 14, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film La piel que habito was released in U.S. theaters with the translated title The Skin I Live in. The film showed at The Grand Cinema throughout late November, after a limited release and slow distribution.
Almodóvar, an internationally acclaimed Spanish filmmaker, is known for his work on such films as Hable con ella (Talk to Her), La mala educación (Bad Education), and Volver (Return).
With La piel que habito, he continues to explore themes for which he has garnered a reputation: gender, sexuality, melodrama and madness.
La piel que habito furthers Almodóvar’s ongoing explorations to such a degree that many loyal fans, and certainly many newcomers, have recoiled in disgust or fear.
Critics have claimed that La piel que habito is in fact a new genre for Almodóvar; it is, quite nearly, a dramatic horror.
Starring Antonio Banderas, the film centers around the plight of a plastic surgeon named Robert Ledgard (Banderas), working with live-in patient Vera (actress Elena Anaya) in an attempt to create a burn-, bite-, and overall resistant new brand of artificial human skin.
A secondary plot takes place six years prior and tells the story of Ledgard’s daughter, Norma, and a tertiary plot takes place 12 years prior to the present, telling the story of Ledgard’s wife.
Neither his daughter nor wife are present in the primary story, and as their fates are revealed through flashback, Ledgard’s deeply disturbed psychological state becomes more apparent. Resistant skin, the audience learns, is not Ledgard’s primary project at all.
While the film has been receiving attention due to its horrific and shocking twist halfway through, it boasts not only groundbreaking and compelling writing, but also outstanding acting.
Banderas, having shrunk somewhat in the public eye after his latest film venture, the banal Puss in Boots, is back in top form as a madman who demands simultaneous fear and sympathy.
Anaya, relatively unknown outside of Hispanic films, utterly captivates as the mysterious patient Vera both visually and psychologically; her acting post-twist stood out as particularly phenomenal.
However, ultimately it is Blanca Suárez in the role of Norma, Ledgard’s fragile and disturbed daughter, who strikes the deepest chord.
In the stand-out scene of the film, her father visits her in a mental ward only to find his daughter terrified of him, holding her thin arms in front of her face and backing away slowly, sobbing and moaning with animalistic fear, placing herself in a closet and closing it behind her with trembling hands.
The moment sees Norma stripped of all rationality and humanity, beautifully reflecting the film’s own chilling motifs.
The film, while likely to provoke a few tears and certainly several gasps of shock, features surprisingly little gore for its subject matter.
It does, however, feature several graphic sex scenes, including rape, and should thus be viewed with discretion.
However, it is only through such shocking material that the film attains a level of enlightenment.
Those who enjoy dramatic thrillers, psychological horror and excellent acting may find something truly special in La piel que habito; some may even call it catharsis.