Sunday, October 30, 2011

THE SKIN I LIVE IN (LA PIAL QUE HABITO) (2011)

Written & Directed by Pedro Almodvar


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  October 16, 2011 7:00PM


Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish writer/director best known for his stylish, technicolor melodramas laced with a kinky sexuality, has returned with his latest, "The Skin I Live In" and while all of these components are still very much in place but this time he has added a new twist, or rather, twisted, dark and disturbing element to his new feature that comes across as very extreme, even for Almodovar.

Based on the novel, "Tarantula" by Thierry Jonquet, Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who has announced to his colleagues that he has just developed in the lab human flesh that cannot burn. However, what the doctor neglected to tell them is that he wasn't testing the skin on lab animals but on an actual human, a young woman he is holding captive in his home.

Imprisoned for the last six years while still looking quite healthy, sexy and vibrant, Vera (Elena Anaya) has remained in a room in Ledgard's tastefully decorated mansion wearing only a flesh-colored bodysuit as she reads, practices yoga and tries to hang on to her sanity. Vera is constantly watched by cameras installed in the room to survey her every move while she is cared for by Marilia (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard's long-time housekeeper who never questions the idea of housing a prisoner.

An unexpected visitor arrives at the house, a man in a tiger costume. Zeca (Roberto Alamo) is Marilia's estranged son who is dressed this way because he is wanted for an armed robbery and since it is carnival, this is the only chance he can move around undetected. He sees Vera on the camera and thinking that she is someone that he knows, demands that his mother take him to her. After Marilia refuses, Zeca ties her up, then searching each room until he finds Vera where he proceeds to ravish her. The doctor arrives home finding Zeca on top of Vera and shoots him to death.

It's impossible to describe the film much further without giving away too much but I can say that there is a mysterious connection between Zeca, the doctor and his deceased wife who perished in a fiery car crash as well as with Vera who is imprisoned because of her tragic relationship with the doctor's mentally, unbalanced daughter and none of this is in any way you could ever possibly imagine.

Mr. Almodovar is in full control as his take on a horror film is done in the only way he knows; "The Skin I Live In" is boldly perverse, opulently creepy, and extravagantly disturbing but the final results end up being too grave to be much fun and a touch too frivolous to be taken seriously.

The screenplay is both overheated and undercooked for it is complicated, wildly over-the-top but still feels slight..While there are drops of  tiny clues throughout, the characters still have go through lengthy, detailed explanations to help figure it all out. There are hints of Almodovar's trademark quirky humor throughout but there isn't nearly enough to offset some of the absurdities of the plot..

Banderas, who hadn't appeared in an Almodovar film since 1990's, "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!", gives one of his best performances in a long time. He manages to appear somewhat reasonable yet wildly deranged at the same time. Ms Anaya, a stunning beauty, is a magnetic presence who doesn't say much but her expressive face displays her steely determination to survive her ordeal.

While "The Skin I Live In" is far from my favorite from Mr. Almodovar but let's face it--it's still Almodovar. Cinema is in desperate need right now for a film maker who offers his delightful style of wit, charm, and camp and (like how I feel about Woody Allen) even the lesser works by Pedro Almodovar are still more fascinating, watchable and enjoyable than many films out there.