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Review: La piel que habito

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Banderas like Dr. Frankenstein


- Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a disturbing, absurd, strange and moving lab experiment, in Competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Review: La piel que habito

Doctor Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) tries to overcome the tragic loss of his wife by pouring all his energy into his obsession: creating the perfect skin to graft onto a human patient. As his experiments go against bioethics, he conducts them in a secret, personal laboratory, on a young woman (Elena Anaya) whom he keeps prisoner for other reasons.

For his fifth outing in Official Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar stretches his boundaries yet again, in this “genres” film. Genres because, like its main character, The Skin I Live In [+see also:
film focus
interview: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile
, an adaptation of the Thierry Jonquet novella, does not belong to any one category but is a collection of various styles.

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While bearing elements of the classic Hammer Films monster movies, Almodóvar said his main source of inspiration was the complex persona of Dr. Frankenstein. The role of Dr. Ledgard, the catalyst for the director’s obsessions, was also a chance for Banderas to team up with the director for the first time since 1989’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! The actor perfectly embodies the elegance and gloominess of this man who ably hides his disturbed nature behind an exaggerated virility.

In terms of the directing, Almodóvar reigns in his style while a glacial mise-en-scene harkens to the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento. This cocktail of genres is not easy to achieve, yet the director does so without renouncing his noir and sexually overt sense of humour. In The Skin I Live In, the darkest moments are also the most entertaining and the film ultimately heads off in a crazed and hilarious direction.

Until now, Almodóvar had only been venturing into fantasy and sci-fi thrillers as a producer, of films by Guillermo Del Toro and Alex de la Iglesias, without, however, making his own. Although the story isn’t always easy to follow, as it twists and bends through time jumps and convoluted family ties, The Skin I Live In is nevertheless a very personal interpretation of a wonderful idea of cinema, which allows all of the filmmaker’s passions – sexual identity, death, revenge and unnatural urges – to re-emerge.

By turns sinister, loony, bizarre and gripping, The Skin I Live In is a lab experiment that could have been dangerous, but just like Dr. Frankenstein, Almodóvar creates a fascinating concoction from which he extracts a drop of emotion, which he uses in the film’s ending. He needs this tear to put together the last element of his creature: a beating heart.

(Translated from French)


international title: The Skin I Live In
original title: La piel que habito
country: Spain
sales agent: Filmnation Entertainment
year: 2011
directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar
cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Blanca Suárez, Eduard Fernández, José Luis Gómez, Bárbara Lennie, Susi Sánchez, Fernando Cayo

main awards/selection

Cannes 2011 In Competition

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