The Skin I Live In
(La Piel que Habito)

The Skin I Live In (La Piel que Habito)
Made in: Spain
Language: Spanish
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Eduard Fernández, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Blanca Suárez, Susi Sánchez
Year: 2011

Synopsis: Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is a brilliant reconstructive surgeon famous for performing successful face transplants on disfigured victims. He's now a medical researcher who claims to have made a major scientific breakthrough: he's created an artificial skin that's resistant to burns and insect bites!

Robert's lavish residence in Toledo, Spain also houses his hi-tech laboratory, which is similar to the Bat Cave (but more Spanish). Operating in complete secrecy, he conducting bizarre experiments on a young woman named Vera (Elena Anaya).

Vera has been held captive for six years as Ledgard's human test subject, and the only one who knows about any of this is Robert's elderly housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes).

Robert's obsession with his research is driven by the death of his wife. The same tragedy eventually traumatized Robert's daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez), to the point of requiring major psychiatric help. In an even more tragic twist of fate, Norma is raped and later commits suicide. Now in addition to his research, Robert has to also make time being obsessed with revenge!

Vera is connected with all of this as well (I won't say how), and the story eventually turns into a twisted, f*cked up story of sex, rape, gender issues, death, and missing lubricant (but not necessarily in that order).

The Good: The Skin I Live In has a really strong opening. The set-up is intense, bold, dark, and very interesting. It's great to see Antonio Banderas doing serious acting again, and his reunion with Almodovar certainly delivers. Elena Anaya and the rest of the cast is amazing as well, with Anaya earning a well-deserved Goya Award for Best Actress.

The Skin I Live In has an overall atmosphere of refinement and intensity, with an intriguing blend of drama, suspense, and science fiction. The "mad scientist" element is consistently handled with sophistication and class, and thankfully never slips into cheesiness.

The Bad: Unfortunately, the story feels terribly incomplete. Despite a strong set-up and an assortment of issues common in previous Almodovar films, none of them really get resolved or tied together in the end.

Ledgard's research into artificial skin is a really cool premise, and is built up to be a major element of the story. But halfway through, it is inexplicably dropped. Also, the deaths of Ledgard's wife and daughter is supposed to serve as a major motivating force for his obsession and vengeance (for a major plot turn that I won't give away).

But by the end, none of it comes together.

Who would like this film: This is definitely meant for fans of Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas (and the gorgeous Elena Anaya, I should add). This will also appeal to those accustomed to suspense movies with twisted, perverse sex stuff, as Almodovar is required by Spanish law to make these kinds of films.

All the elements for a great thriller are present, but ultimately, The Skin I Live In is a disappointment. Character development hits a dead end, and the abrupt, unsatisfying conclusion will induce groans. It almost feels as though Pedro Almodovar got a little more hung up on trying to make the audience cringe instead of presenting a cohesive narrative.

Yes, I suppose this is supposed to be a shocking, f*cked up movie as only Almodovar can pull off. But it should have (and could have) been so much more.

(2 and 1/2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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