The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In was written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, based upon the novel, Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet. Robert (Antonio Banderas) is a plastic surgeon who is haunted by the death of his wife, Gal, who committed suicide after being severely burned in a car accident. Robert is determined to develop a new type of skin that cannot burn. He carries out his experiments on Vera (Elena Anaya), a woman he holds captive in his mansion. The only other person who knows about this is Robert’s servant, Marilla (Marisa Paredes). Robert succeeds in giving Vera burn-proof skin, but then he realizes that he can’t tell anyone without revealing his criminal methods. (Apparently, he never thought of this before.) At this point, Vera starts making sexual advances towards Robert, but he resists her. One day, while Robert is out, his criminally inclined half-brother, Zeca (Roberto Álamo), shows up, finds Vera and tries to rape her. Robert arrives home at this point and kills Zeca. (Robert doesn’t know that Zeca is his half-brother. This gets really complicated. I will try to stick to the bare essential details.) Afterwards, Robert and Vera sleep together.

The film then jumps six years back in time. Robert goes to a wedding party with his daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez). She meets Vicente (Jan Cornet), and they go out in the woods together. Vicente tries to rape Norma. When she resists, he hits her and knocks her unconscious. He then flees. Robert finds Norma and brings her to. However, Norma, who who is on drugs, thinks Robert tried to rape her. She has a mental breakdown and eventually kills herself. Robert decides to take revenge on Vicente. (He supposedly knows that Vicente is the culprit simply because he saw him riding away on a motorcycle.) He tracks down Vicente (the film doesn’t explain how) and abducts him. He then performs a sex-change operation on him. If you think that’s perverse, Robert then performs surgery on Vicente’s face to make him look exactly like his dead wife, Gal. (Why? The film never indicates what his motive is for doing this.) You guessed it: Vicente becomes Vera. The film then returns to the present. Matters come to a head when one of Robert’s medical colleagues figures out what Robert has been doing.

What lifts this above your average, run-of-the-mill mad scientist movie are the skilled direction, camera work and acting. (The performances of Banderas and Anaya carry the film.) Yet, for all his cleverness, Almodóvar can’t disguise the fact that the story is basically a lurid melodrama. What’s more, the dialogue leaves something to be desired. The characters say things like “I will report you to the scientific community”. (I swear, this line actually occurs twice.) The idea that Vera has burn-proof skin is never really used in any way. And, not surprisingly, the depiction of Vicente’s transformation into Vera is not convincing.

Some humor would have helped this film, yet Almodóvar plays it straight, despite the story’s absurdities. It might have been better if he had gone over the top and made the movie into something Ed Wood might have written. All in all, this is a disappointing film, especially after seeing Almodóvar’s brilliant Broken Embraces.

2 Responses to “The Skin I Live In”

  1. Andrew Coates Says:

    This is precisely the judgement given at the BBC 4 World Cinema awards this Sunday – and one I too would agree with. An Iranian film The Seperation won – I havenl;t yet seen it. Gods and Men didn’t but I suspect that was partly to with the fact that the film’s long-drawn out pace towards the end is due to the fact that French speakers would have known the finish from the start). Thierry Jonquet btw was a French Trotskyist thriller (polar and policiers) writer better known for his political themes.

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