The Skin I Live In (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

 

skin 75From the moment this film began, I was completely entranced. Everything about it was clicking perfectly.

 

skin 500

About 15 minutes into The Skin I Live In, I came to the delightful realization that I had no idea where the movie was going. Normally I know what to expect going in, and if I don’t, I can pretty much figure it out early in the film. However, this is an exception. This film avoids typical plot conventions, and feels so fresh (and, frankly, weird) that I just gave up trying to figure it out and let it take me wherever it wanted to go. In hopes that you will have the same experience, I will keep my plot synopsis short.

Antonio Banderas plays a plastic surgeon who specializes in face transplants for burn victims. He is working to develop a new type of skin, which will be tougher and more resistant than normal human skin. He carries out his tests and experiments on a woman named Vera, who he keeps as a prisoner in his home. I would say that the less you know about the rest of the movie, the better off you will be.

From the moment this film began, I was completely entranced. Everything about it was clicking perfectly. From the quiet intensity of the performances, to the perfect shot compositions, the elegant musical score, the creative twists and turns in the plot—everything about it held me in its grasp. I was along for the ride, and at one point my mouth was literally agape. It is rare that a film so completely engrosses me.

About halfway through, the film shifts in time, moving away from the previous story. Rather than getting frustrated, I got even more intrigued. I’m usually a stickler for pacing and structure, but every once in a while a film will come along with no regard for traditional structure, and I am always happy to applaud them when they succeed. The Skin I Live In takes its time in answering questions, but it moves so fluidly and with such artistry, that I didn’t care when it chose to explain itself. I trusted that director Pedro Almodóvar would provide whatever answers I needed, when I needed them. You can sense when you are in the hands of a master craftsman who knows just how to manipulate you.

The film deals with some very disturbing material, but it does so in a way which I found very palpable. There is an almost Kubrickian, clinical feel to the film, but whereas A Clockwork Orange makes you feel dirty, Almodovar adds a sense of warmth. Elena Anaya, who plays Vera, is a gorgeous woman, and we are meant to look at her the same way Banderas does. However, we also have such strong feelings of empathy for her that we want her to break out and be free. This is one of those great movies where there are no good guys and bad guys. We feel for all the characters and want all of them to be happy, even if that is impossible.

The Skin I Live In is the kind of film that reminds me of why I love movies. At some point in the second half I was desperately hoping that the movie would maintain its level of quality. If the final act had failed, I would have been heartbroken. When the film ended, I was on an incredible high. To be so enthralled by a film and to have it pay off so well is an experience I crave. It’s possible that, when I see it again, knowing how the film plays out, I will have a less satisfying experience. But for now, I hold that first viewing near and dear to my heart. I am madly in love with this film. | Sean Lass

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