Thursday, November 10, 2011
NYFF Review #8: THE SKIN I LIVE IN
After more than a decade apart, star Antonio Banderas and now-legendary writer/director Pedro Almodovar have revived their longtime collaboration with THE SKIN I LIVE IN, Almodovar's lurid take on the horror genre (which owes a lot, by his own admission, to George Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE). Here, though, the story we may already know is infused with the director's never-dying fascination with gender identity.
Banderas plays a boundary-pushing plastic surgeon who has a river of madness running through his veins. His current obsession lies in his attempts to develop a brand of super-human skin made out of pig cells. Frankenstein-like, he works in secret in the basement of his sleek, steely compound on his newest creation, a commanding and wide-eyed woman named Vera (Elena Anaya), who's the jailed and tortured recipient of a six-year regiment of skin grafts.
Through a hazy, jumbled series of flashbacks, we're let in on a tragic series of events that lead to both the release of the doctor's incipient madness, while at the same time we're being imformed of his creation's monsterous angst. There are blue and silver touches of Cronenberg felt here, and at the same time, Mary Shelley's spirit is alive. But Franju's ideas are most powerfully at work in this movie. This could even be seen as a remake of EYES WITHOUT A FACE. After the screening at the NY Film Fest, the incredibly clever and funny Almodovar was upfront about this influence.
When you see Anaya with the mask and bodysuit (designed by Jean-Paul Gauthier), you'll know what I'm talking about (if you've seen EYES WITHOUT A FACE, which you should see before hand, if you haven't yet). Anaya's pasty-white mask is total Franju; meanwhile, the precise bodysuit is utterly both Gauthier AND Almodovar. The latter finds much room for many darkly-tinged laughs, particularly with Banderas's tiger-suited brother, played with zest by Roberto Álamo. And, perhaps not so naturally, there is some of the most bizarre and unsettling sex in a festival that has been filled with strangely sexual tales.
Almodovar's newest picture is perhaps a bit overlong by 10 or 15 minutes, but it is also campy and action-packed, and ultimately quite moving, most notably in its brave and incomprehensibly sad final scene (capped with a simple, memorable final line). Backed with perhaps the most energetic musical score of the year (a violin-infused violence by Alberto Iglesias), I didn't love THE SKIN I LIVE IN, but I respect it immensely. It's a sick movie that made me smile.