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.