Let me put it this way; even if you have seen all the films by Pedro Almodovar you will not see this one coming. Like most of Almodovar’s films, The Skin I Live invokes what is perhaps the boldest form storytelling as he slowly unfolds a plot that can only be described as devious and dark perversion of the soul. And I mean that as a compliment. Almodovar likes to play with his audience; he pushes the limits of the viewer until he experiences revolting pleasure.
And we are afraid of feeling this… mostly, because we like it but do not know how to deal with it.
So where do I begin, if I try not to spoil any part of this films juicy pulpy plot? In a way this is simply Almodovar’s take on the classic roadhouse-horror B-movie. The film involves, a mad scientist, a burn victim, a loyal housekeeper, a rape victim, a kidnapping, illegal experimenting, ice-cold revenge, multiple suicides, and a man prancing around in a tiger suit. And they do not necessarily show up in that order.
The mad scientist in this film actually has some credentials to his name. Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a top reconstructive surgeon; he has done three of the nine facial transplants in history and is also quite adapt when it comes to enhancing breasts. After the death of his wife, which I will not reveal how it happens, Dr. Ledgard assumes a godlike right to perform experiments on the bodies of people. He claims just to be using rats; but one of his partners knows better.
In his majestic Spanish mansion, Ledgard holds the beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya) captive; she is his pet project. Locked up within the mansion, Vera spends her time doing yoga while the good Doctor experiments with her body, specifically her skin. And as his experimenting progresses, the good Doctor begins to see himself not as a scientist but an artist. What exactly is the Doctor doing to the lovely Vera? That I am afraid is too juicy to reveal. But it suffices to say that he thinks of Vera as his masterpiece. Like all mad scientists Dr. Ledgard wants to prove something, to the world and himself.
Traditionally these mad-scientist horror films have been incredibly campy; Almodovar, however, keeps a straight face here. This is something he hasn’t quite done in any of his films. But his silky colorful visuals are still here; every scene digs deep into the senses, every shot is artfully composed, the music carefully selected, and the scenic design will be implanted in your memory for many movies to come (man, how I’d like to meet Dr. Ledgard’s interior decorator).
But he could not achieve this without his cast. Popularly known for being the voice of Puss in Boots, shows a whole new side that he had previously kept hidden. He approaches the role of Dr. Ledgard with such a passionate force that for a second he is almost unrecognizable. To say this has been his best performance would be quite a big understatement; Zorro just doesn’t really place the bar high enough. While, Elena Anaya, like all of Almodovar’s leading ladies seems to transcend acting. I’ve heard rumors that being the female lead in an Almodovar film can be a scarring experience for the actress. Not sure if this is true. But it pays off.
Anyways, it is best that we just let it be known that Almodovar is not a filmmaker but a painter who proves, once again, that film is the superior canvas.