Monday, 30 January 2012

The Lady & The Iron Lady

Two female politicians, but two very different films

The Lady
Starting violently with the assassination of Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, a Burmese revolutionary, the film skips out a chunk of the politician’s life, instead commencing when Suu Kyi returns to Burma to see her mother, dying in a hospital. Burma is in turmoil, with pro-democracy protests on the streets. Through Suu Kyi’s eyes (played by Michelle Yeoh), we see young protesters being brutally attacked, rounded up and killed by government forces.

A group of academics approach Suu Kyi, asking her to take up the pro-democracy mantle and follow her father’s lead. She starts out as a reluctant politician, something that is conveyed in the way she gestures to the public - a shy, uncertain wave. Meanwhile back in Oxford, England, Suu Kyi’s husband, Michael Aris is looking after the children while lecturing in Asian studies at Oxford University. His world of academia and dusty tomes (albeit to do with East Asia) is a world away from the chaos unfurling in Burma.

Sadly, the film does not explore the tensions that Kyi must have faced in deciding whether to actively take up politics. Prior to going back to Burma she had settled in Oxford and was a housewife, looking after her two kids, Kim and Alexander. To go from mother to leader must have been a difficult decision. As a housewife she must have had a very close relationship with her two sons, and although we see them embracing at many points in the film, Yeoh does not convey the range of feelings experienced by Suu Kyi - maybe of guilt and sadness - at being separated from her children. Yeoh definitely looks the part of the diminutive, elegant Steel Orchid, but her performance as the pro-democracy leader is one-dimensional, more sycophantic than realistic.

Considering that the film focuses more on her relationship with her husband rather than Burma’s political landscape, Yeoh fails to present the leader as a human, with doubts, fears and personality flaws. Suu Kyi is portrayed as a martyr, but there must be more to her. At one point Kyi talks to Aris about her stubbornness and praises him for having put up with it, but we never see her stubbornness in the film or the strain Kyi’s decision must have had on her marriage.

The real toll of Kyi’s choice can be seen in the effect it has on her husband, played by David Thewlis, who dies of prostate cancer while separated from his wife. His marked physical and mental deterioration is heart-wrenching, and his patience and love for Suu Kyi as she pursues her political goal is inspiring. The love story in Suu Kyi’s life story is perfect for film, and although some will be disappointed that The Lady does not concentrate enough about Burmese politics (especially when it continues to feature in the news) the focus on Suu Kui and Aris’ love is a good means of easing people into Burmese history. However, Yeoh’s wooden performance lets the film down. I recently watched Suu Kyi attempt to speak French at a press conference. Her vivaciousness, confidence and feistiness is apparent. It’s a shame that Yeoh was not able to incorporate this into her performance.

The Iron Lady


From a woman who said she was stubborn, to a woman whose obstinacy is a central theme of the film. While Michelle Yeoh’s performance in The Lady lacks depth, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady is scarily convincing as Britain’s first female prime minister. This film has generated much attention and controversy- some people formed picket lines outside a cinema, some refused to see it, while some felt it was inspiring in showing the hurdles Margaret Thatcher had to overcome as a woman entering politics.

Essentially the film was an exploration of Thatcher’s dementia and loneliness, how she is now a fragile shell of the formidable woman she used to be. There’s a complete lack of engagement with the politics of the 1980s - why people were rioting, the closure of the mine pits and the introduction of poll tax - fine for an American audience but left an British audience leaving the cinema with a sense of dissatisfaction. While many critics have decried and lambasted the film’s disengagement with the consequences of Thatcher’s rule, I think this lack of context actually bolsters the characterisation of Margaret Thatcher, showing the world through her blinkered eyes. For Thatcher, everything was black and white- the opposition were not poor, hard-working people fighting against the destruction of their way of life, they were a riotous mob, engaging in violence at any opportunity, and the film shows them as shadowy figures pummelling her car door as she drives by. She seems genuinely unable to relate to other people, or realise the divisive effect her government had on society.

We see some attempt at explaining why Thatcher became who she was. There are flashbacks to her upbringing, the daughter of a shopkeeper in Grantham, whose principles revolved around self-sufficiency and hard work. We also see elements of humanity, in her love for Dennis Thatcher (Jim Broadbent) and her children, her intense loneliness when he dies and her sadness at the death of soldiers in the Falklands war. Meryl Streep is incredible at the former prime minister, perfecting Thatcher’s voice and manner.

Despite its faltering plot, The Iron Lady explores Thatcher’s position as one of the party’s leading female figures and how this, in addition to her background as a lower middle-class Northerner left her as an outsider. She managed to shake up the party, combining her steadfastness with a penchant for blue dresses, yet she always remained an outsider (eventually being ousted by her own party), and this is most evident in her vulnerable and demented state throughout the film. We see elements of madness in Margaret - her paranoia, obsessiveness and inability to be flexible. Streep portrays a woman who, despite being the epitome of the Conservative Party, was always an outsider.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

World Press Photo 2011

For over 55 years the competition has been showcasing the best images from around the world

You needn’t have been to the World Press Photo exhibition to see Jodi Bieber’s photo of Bibi Aisha, the Afghan woman whose husband cut off her ears and nose after she left him. The photo has garnered international acclaim and is this year’s winner. The brutality of the disfigurement is shocking. However, the photo’s power is derived from the way Aisha is portrayed- not as a victim, slumped on the ground crying, but as a survivor, seated in a dignified manner, posing for the camera. The photograph has become one of the most notable pictures of the exhibition. However, there are others that deserve just as much recognition.

Southern Sudan Challenges

For me, the stand-out photograph was by Guillem Valle, a Spanish photographer, who captured a Dinka man in front of his house in Akkach, South Sudan. Valle says the man, a Dinka elder, has a “hieratic face” and by centring the man in the middle of photo, with the lines of the house’s roof seeming to form a focal point at the man’s head, Valle certainly manages to accentuate the sense of authority and majesty about him. This photo can be delineated into lines – the lines on the man’s crisp shirt seem to give him more stature, making him look more imposing, while the use of black and white photography draws attention to his striking cheekbones. This is a truly arresting photo – combining the photographer’s skills with the man’s stoicism.

Fair Trade

Another favourite was Kenneth O’Halloran’s photographs of Irish traveller fairs. Considering the British public’s familiarity with traveller life through programmes like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, it is hard to imagine what people around the world would make of these photos. The young girl, posed in a red outfit, hands on hips with a defiant pout, is simultaneously scary and hilarious. Similarly, the three teenage girls posing, breasts overflowing, caked in what appears to be fake tan, seem to be a parody of beauty.

I’m not often captivated by sports photography, but the World Press Photo provides an abundance of beautifully shot scenes that capture the thrill, excitement and drama of physical exertion. Steve Christo’s photograph of Australian swimmers in the Cole Classic race at Manly Beach could be mistaken for being boats, fish, tadpoles or sperm, swimming for their prize. The swimmers seem so small and insignificant in the ocean, yet it's a scene of frantic activity – you can easily imagine the splash and dash for the finish line.

At a tent theater near you

For a sense of the grasp that cinema has on Indians, check out Amit Madheshiya’s ‘At a tent theater near you’. It features a montage of the audience at a travelling cinema. All seem to be captivated by the action on screen – there’s the woman with her hands over her mouth, the nonchalant man ready to light his cigarette. We get a tentative glimpse of the film’s action through the reflection from an old man’s glasses, yet we never know about the film they are watching. The audience is composed of very different characters yet they are all drawn together for a few hours of escapism.

The Last Colony

Andrew McConnell’s photo of Josephine Mpongo in the Congo is inspiring. During the day she sells eggs in the market, but by night she is a musician, playing the cello as part of the Orchestre Symphoniqye Kimbanguiste, Central Africa’s only symphony containing mostly self-taught amateurs. In the photo, Mpongo is lost in her own world, separated from the bustle of the market by the green wall and by her music. It’s a beautiful shot, capturing someone lost in their art, while the world around them carries on chaotically.

About half of the World Press Photo contains distressing and graphic images – of war, natural disasters, violence and disease – and it makes for uncomfortable viewing. The nature of the some of photos – like a decapitated head in Mexico – are distressing because they are gruesome. Others can be uncomfortable to view because many of the photos capture people at their worst state in their lives, like after the earthquake in Haiti, when they would not want to be photographed, and as an audience you feel like a voyeur, viewing their pain and hardship like you view a piece of art, only to forget about it when you get home. The ethics of photojournalism can occupy a shadowy territory. By capturing a scene of intense suffering you may draw international attention to an area or situation that would otherwise be ignored, but you also turn people into victims and subjects, denying many of them privacy and dignity.

Julie with baby

One of the photos that really stood out from the ‘graphic’ section of the exhibition was the montage by Darcy Padilla, entitled 'The Julie Project'. For 18 years the photographer documents the life of Julie, an 18-year-old HIV positive woman, with a newborn child and a history of drug abuse. The first photo shows Julie with her daughter Rachel, aged 3 months in the lobby of a hotel. She looks tired and weary, displaying no interaction with her baby, and looking like she is completely clueless about what to do with it. As the montage and years continue, Julie looks more withered and emaciated, due to drugs, poverty and the effects of having more children. Padilla is there at the most intimate moments of Julie’s life – lying in bed with her HIV positive boyfriend Jason and at the birth of her baby Elyssa, as she is delivered. As her AIDS related conditions develops, Julie becomes weaker. The most harrowing photo is of her lying naked on a couch, ‘reaching out for someone who isn’t there’. In the last photo, Jason holds Julie for the last time before she dies. Although it feels intrusive watching this deterioration in a once beautiful woman, it is clear that Padilla has formed a strong relationship with Tracey, showing moments of tenderness, especially in her relationship with Jason, as well as disruption.

The World Press Photo highlights the importance of photojournalism – its ability to shock, entertain and inform us. It requires real skill and dedication to be a photojournalist, working in uncertain and volatile conditions. Last month, CNN announced that photojournalists would be sacked as part of efficiency savings. Jack Womack, the organisation’s senior vice president of domestic news operations justified this by saying that the rise of citizen journalism and photos provided by social media, meant that it was more cost-effective to use them rather than photojournalists.

It’s true that citizen journalism does produce spectacular photography and this has been recognised in the World Press Photo. One of the Chilean miners who was stuck along with 32 other miners was handed a camera and documented his attempt to keep fit and create some semblance of normality while stuck underground.

However, citizen-produced photos will never produce anything as powerful as that produced by photojournalists, who have been trained to use a camera and who are more aware of the ethics involved in covering these situations. It’s a travesty to photographers who have died or been injured while documenting the world (like Tim Hetherington this year) that executives feel their work can be replicated by untrained sources.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Grayson Perry: The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman

This Peter Pan artist pays tribute to childhood and history's forgotten artists


Grayson Perry is one of the most recognisable of the Turner Prize winners. Often appearing as his alter-ego Claire, donned in a frilly girl’s dress and bows, along with an almost grotesque childish grin, the transvestite artist’s attire is as famous as his work.

His obsession with childhood and imagination feeds into his work as well as his fashion, and “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman” exhibition at the British Museum aims to combine reality, imagination and history.

The exhibition has been sculpted with love and care by Perry, who accompanies us, like a modern-day Peter Pan into his world of chosen artefacts. Many of these objects are from the British Museum’s collections, ranging from Renaissance medals, Polynesian fetishes and Tibetan stupas. Amongst these relics, he has interspersed his own work- his Early English Motorcycle Helmet rests comfortably alongside an ancient Ghanaian headdress piece, making you question what is relic and what is imitation.

Instead of the standard, third-person captions to accompany his work, Grayson’s work has written his captions in first person, talking directly to the reader like a friend and explaining his motivations behind certain creations, in a way that is neither patronising nor pretentious.

The whole exhibition provides an insight into Perry's modus operandi as well as the work of other craftsmen. His urn, The Frivolous Now, seems to be a product of now. It buzzes with humorous references to the contemporary- 'Botox', 'phone hacking', 'Mumsnet' and 'Lotto rollover', yet it has been modelled on ancient pots from China and Greece. This is an artist whose work, which often seems frivolous, is rooted and shaped by the intense study of past sculptors. The climax of the exhibition is “The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman”, a giant ship made by Perry, that pays homage to these anonymous cultural makers and resembles a recently unearthed archaeological treat.

Despite showing a deep reverence and respect of past craftsmen, Perry pokes fun and revels in their cruder creations, and mocks the contemporary art world. We see ancient relics with massive penises and tablets of Assyrians copulating. None of this is new in craftsmanship, but Perry encourages to laugh about it as well as appreciate it. Alan Measles, Perry’s beloved teddy bear, and alter-ego appears around the exhibition, embossed in urn, immortalised in a shrine, or sporting a large erection.

By lovingly combining his childish imagination with past relics, Grayson Perry guides us around his world, yet also produces a fitting tribute to all the skilled craftsmen who have been forgotten by history.

The Frivolous Now

"The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman" is at the British Museum until February 19

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Interview: Max Hoehn

A radical reworking of Pushkin's The Queen of Spades hits the Arcola Theatre this month. Its director describes his love of Russian literature and how he adapted this popular opera

Photo: Nick Coupe

At the tender age of 22, director Max Hoehn has already built up an enviable CV. Juggling a history degree at Oxford University with theatre commitments, he went on to start his own theatre company, Fusebox Productions, and has already directed at the Arcola Theatre and at the Edinburgh festival. Needless to say, he’s ambitious, and his latest project is to radically transform Alexander Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades on to the stage.

Pushkin’s famous text has been traditionally associated with Tchaikovsky’s opera version, but Fusebox’s Queen of Spades will be the first theatrical adaptation of the text outside of Russia. The opera version is still popular today and a week after Hoehn’s production opens at the Arcola theatre in Hackney, Opera North’s touring version will begin at the Barbican centre.

“Its a coincidence that the opera is being staged at the same time as this adaptation” says Hoehn, “The opera is very famous, it has a big budget with lots of resources invested in it, whereas our production is in a studio with three characters, and we are really emphasizing the fantasia of Pushkin.”

The director is keen to present his version as a completely new experience, open to those who have never come across Puskin’s work. “I think someone who enjoys the opera version can enjoy our play, and its focus on the original text, which had a lot more humour. So much of this is our own thing, and I doubt the Arcola’s audience is particularly purist about Pushkin.”

The Queen of Spades is Hoehn’s second production of a classic Russian text, following from The Master and Margarita, an adaptation of a 400-page Soviet-era satire by Mikhail Bulgakov, which was highly acclaimed at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2010. Hoehn is keen to spread his love of Russian theatre, and its skill at story-telling.

“Stanislavsky seems to be the legacy of Russian theatre but there were other practitioners who interest me, who look at storytelling. I’m interested in composition rather than Russia’s ultra-realist tradition.”

“I studied avant-garde Russian theatre and the period of revolutionary literature at university. There seems to a long history of adaptation in Russian theatre which really appeals to me.”

Pushkin’s text is set in the 1830s, but Hoehn explains its popularity with modern audiences. “Our adaptation isn’t set in 1837, but that doesn’t really matter. The story is a classic text, and people keep adapting it, because its cynicism is very modern.”

The Queen of Spades is about an army officer named Hermann, who becomes obsessed with unlocking the secret of a card trick, which would make him rich if obtained. The secret lies with an ancient countess, but Hermann has no way of reaching her. He eventually gains access to the house by convincing the countess’s ward, Lisa, that he is in love with her. Once in the house, he finds the countess, and later obtains the secret, which eventually haunts him and leads to his downfall.

Hermann’s greedy pursuit of the card trick makes him an unlikely protagonist, but he is nonetheless an exciting character for the audience to follow, while the most honest character, Liza, is the victim.

Although the plot suggests a vague critique on the dangers of greed, Hoehn says it does not have a clear message, making it a very strange story. “The tale has many parodies and genres within it. It’s very cynical and does provide social commentary, but Pushkin’s never moralistic and you see that through the irony in the story. Also, Pushkin was a big gambler and was very self-aware of it.”

Hoehn’s version plans to elevate the fantastical elements of the original text. “It’s a bizarre story, quite hallucinatory, with ghosts coming to life and macabre elements that give a heightened quality to the storytelling. We wanted to focus on the iconic images of the novel- the old lady rocking in her chair, the young man Hermann behind her desperate for money, and the winking ghost that reappears to him.”

Hoehn hopes to create this trippy, heightened sense of illusions on stage with a simplistic set - a huge, expanded bed and two chairs. “A lot of the action happens on this huge expanded bed, with massive folds in it. It’s a very simple design and quite hard to pull-off.”

Creating fantasy out of simplicity is a challenging feat, and the Arcola’s Queen of Spades will attempt to do it with a cast of three characters. Hoehn is confident he will create the right atmosphere through sound – even through the rhythm of the dialogue, which is in rhyming prose. “The nature of the text causes a rhythm. We push every front to create an experience, through dialogue in verse, lots of sound and non-textual expression which add to the grotesque. It’s a bit of an epic with three people.”

An epic with three people, melodrama through simplicity…Hoehn’s vision of his play offers intriguing juxtapositions. “Who knows what I’ll be working on next?” he ponders. No doubt, it will be something as ambitious if not more, than his current feat.

The Queen of Spades will be on at the Arcola Theatre from October 12 to November 12. Click here for tickets.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Green Wave

Director Ali Samadi Ahadi chooses to concentrate on the unknown voices from the blogosphere and the streets of Tehran


Animation is an arresting way of capturing the gruesome reality of conflict to audiences who have become desensitised to gore through conventional films or continuous media footage. Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis are notable examples of their use of animation, turning real-life events into dreamy, anarchic and contemplative streams of consciousness.

The Green Wave accounts the heroic but ultimately failed attempts of young protesters, many of whom were demonstrating for the first time in 2009, as they demanded reform from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ultra-conservative government. To the West, that event became immortalised by the death of the Neda Solta, a 26-year-old woman who was shot by Iran’s security forces. Her last moments were captured on fuzzy mobile phone footage and beamed out to the shocked world via the internet. Her story is included in the film, but the director Ali Samadi Ahadi chooses to concentrate on the unknown voices from the blogosphere and those on the streets of Tehran.

The film starts full of optimism, with footage of people congregated in the Haydarniya stadium to support the opposition presidential candidate, Hossein Mousavi. The atmosphere evokes the pageantry and jubilation of a soccer match, and the rich colours, including the green worn by Mousavi’s supporters, are highlighted by animator Ali Reza Darvish’s drawings. However, when it emerges that Ahmadinejad rigged the polls in his favour, the mood turns sombre, as protesters take to the streets again to protest the results. That is when things get violent, with the state unleashing violence and fear onto the streets of Tehran, rounding up political activists, including internet bloggers.

Ahmadinejad, known for his ridiculous rhetoric (denying the Holocaust, and saying that there are no gay people in Iran) can sometimes come across as a maverick figure, like Gaddafi . This film shows his ruthless and calculated attempts to maintain power, allowing the killing of children, women and unarmed protesters by his militia henchmen.

One of the most harrowing parts of the film is when one of bloggers is arrested and tortured in prison. His previous optimism is quashed, and when he comes out of prison he is a truly broken figure. In the prisons, people are deprived of food, subjected to lashings and are dispensed physical and sexual abuse. For a leader who is so homophobic, the use of state-sanctioned male rape by Ahmadinejad’s militia comes as a surprise - but then its function is to strip the victim of all power and dignity, not for sexual gratification. The events are also explored from another perspective, that of the militia man who has been ordered to beat up, kill and terrorise the electorate. He battles with his conscience and the teachings of Islam, which have been manipulated to provide justification for the state’s brutal clampdown.

Even though the audience may have become familiar with the fervour, determination and the tools used by protesters, from this year's coverage of the Arab Spring protests, the Green Wave is nevertheless a powerful insight into an event which set a new precedent for people-power within the Middle East and globally. The film is interspersed with real-life footage and interviews with journalists and lawyers, providing a detached perspective and chronological narrative of the events.

The film conveys two points about the nature of the Iranian Revolution which are different to the Arab Spring protests this year. Iranians were agitating for reform, not revolution, and had Ahmadinejad listened and implemented means by which to curb unemployment and economic conditions, the demonstrators would not have become so alienated from the state. Second, the film shows the presence and gives a voice to the scores of strong, determined women who protested in the country- in hospitals, on the streets and in election offices, while the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and Libya, seem to be led by men.

Despite its bleak and depressing ending, the beauty of the animation and the film’s depiction of the bravery of young people in Iran, struggling for basic freedoms, makes for compelling viewing.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Jane Eyre

Despite its talented cast, the film chose to play safe in its adaptation of the text, with a mediocre result


There’s always a temptation to lump Charlotte Bronte into the same “period drama” category as Jane Austen. Although their novels often share similar themes love against the odds and a woman trying to find her place in the world they are very different authors, with Bronte being the darker, more socially transgressive of the pair.

Countless productions of Jane Eyre have been produced for cinema and the small screen, and with the young director Cary Fukunaga, there was a opportunity to explore the novel’s many layers, including its subplots on madness, race and gender roles, which have often been neglected in other versions. Instead, the result was a mediocre adaptation that lacked depth.

The film begins on a wet and windy evening with a bedraggled, wandering adult Jane finding shelter with the puritanical but kind vicar, St John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his kind sisters. This bold move to start the film in the middle of the novel provides an interesting and novel viewpoint into our heroine’s journey. From then, Jane Eyre’s childhood years are presented as a sort of flashback, explaining how her unloved, strict childhood has shaped her.

However, the rest of the film is tame, following the main thread of the novel, whereby Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre’s love is threatened by the presence of his mad wife, who he keeps locked away in his castle. Unlike other productions, which have tried to add some dimension to her character, Bertha Mason is denied a voice for the whole film. We know little about her history or why she became mad, and there is no critique of the way she is kept in a sort of asylum within her house. In the novel, there is ambiguity about whether she is a black Jamaican, Creole or white elements which could have been incorporated into the film to explore the issues of race, colonialism and class. Instead, Bertha Mason is a white, beautiful female, and we know little about her.

Michael Fassbender is perfectly cast as Mr Rochester dark and brooding with a mysterious glint in his eye, while Mia Wasikowska is brilliant as the plain Jane, and manages to convey her character’s loneliness at Thornfield Hall. However, they both lack sexual chemistry, possibly because it is difficult to recreate the slow-burning attraction between master and governess in a two-hour film. In the five-hour BBC television adaptation, Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson were convincing as the lovers and their burgeoning love could be seen through the flirtation and witty, sarcastic comments exchanged between the pair, which developed as the episodes progressed.

One of the best moments of the book is when the heroine first meets Mr Rochester caked in mud, lying sprawled on his backside by the road, having fallen off his horse hardly Mr Darcy material. There are many other comedic moments, but the film breezes past them, instead focussing excessively on creating a moody Gothic atmosphere of foreboding and mystery, which runs out of steam by the end of the film.

The film is well-shot, but with such good actors, it had the potential to really question, challenge and explore the themes of Bronte’s original work, opening the story to a newer, younger audience. Andrea Arnold’s production of Wuthering Heights promises to be a thought-provoking version of the text, featuring a black actor in the role of Heathcliff. Instead, Fukuanga decided to stick with the expectations of Bronte purists. This may have been a safe move, but the final product ultimately fell short of previous adaptations.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito)

Almodovar makes this Frankenstein-esque scientist transcend boundaries that Mary Shelley would never have dreamed of....


Pedro Almodovar’s films are known for their rich colours and cinematography. In each film, he creates a few focal images that still resonate in the audience’s mind, long after the film has finished. In the last Almodovar film I watched, Broken Embraces, the image which stuck out was Penelope Cruz in front of the mirror, looking like a Continental Marilyn Munroe.

In the Skin I Live In, there are plenty of beautifully stylised shots, including the film’s poster, featuring the doctor, Dr Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), about to unveil the face of Vera (Elena Anaya). The film opens with a shot of Vera stretching in a fresh-coloured bodysuit, her flexible, supine figure moulding naturally into awkward positions. We find out that she is the patient of Dr Ledgard, a reclusive plastic surgeon who lives in Toldeo, Spain. He lost his wife a while back when she committed suicide following a horrific car accident that left her covered in burns. Since then, the doctor, like Frankenstein, has been working feverishly in his laboratory to create a synthetic skin that could be used for the patients with burns. Vera is both his patient and his muse, and he is acts like her divine maker. Her skin, which we, like the scientist, gaze at voyeuristically, is pristine and dewy, primed to perfection artificially. He keeps her locked away in his house, under the supervision of his house keeper. However, as the story progresses, Dr Ledgard’s obsession with skin intertwines the three central characters in ways that will shock and surprise.

Although the film has been described as a psychological horror, there’s an air of dark comedy about it. The plots at times seems so incredulous that what starts as a pathos-inducing Senecan tragedy , with the themes of justice and revenge, ends up like Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, with blood and bodies everywhere, and very little sympathy for anyone, except maybe Vera, who has been sliced and diced to perfection by the doctor.

Antonio Banderas is a great choice for the scientist, smouldering and suave. He keeps Vera in a room with a one-way mirror, and gazes at her as she languishes on the sofa- his voyeuristic eye as penetrative as the scalpels he uses to invade her body. The film explores the importance of skin and image and whether it can change our fundamental identity and sexuality, or whether there is an essence of us that stays intact despite mental and physical invasion.

Almodovar saves his big twist for near the end of the play, and it’s ingeniously devised so that many of the loose ends of the story tie up by the end. Ultimately, in this twenty-first century Frankenstein story, Ledgard, like his eighteenth-century counterpart, is faced with a creation that comes back to haunt him.