Once again Pedro Almodóvar reveals his genius for turning the ridiculous into the sublime with this creepy skin flick – a melodramatic thriller that is sombre but never sober and that moves through time and space with much of the boldness and style we’ve come to expect from Spain’s leading director.
The Skin I Live In reunites Almodóvar with Antonio Banderas, playing a tragic figure touched by evil in this adaptation of Thierry Jonquet’s French novel Mygale (Tarantula in English translation). It’s the story of a plastic surgeon, Dr Robert Ledgard (Banderas), whose skills with the knife allow him to take control of a supremely messy personal life in ways unimaginable to anyone but him. Banderas puts in a commanding performance in a film whose thriller tendencies are made doubly interesting by also being an artful study of masks and identities, sex and flesh, bodies and power.
The less said about the story, the better, as it’s built on slow revelations and quick surprises. The Skin I Live In is rooted in pain and loss, which pulls the film’s more melodramatic side into a more thoughtful, provocative place than its surface suggests. After Broken Embraces, The Skin I Live In continues Almodóvar’s journey into darker, more sombre storytelling and into more upscale and interior worlds. Again, too, he chills his palette, rejecting the brighter colours of old for something more maudlin and steely. There are flashes of humour, usually of the nervous kind. Mostly, though, this plays as a psychosexual thriller whose wild events and plot turns are anchored soberly in both Almodóvar’s meticulous direction and a performance from Banderas that offers an intensely controlled, deadly charming screen presence.