Ace surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), has spent half a dozen years holed up in his home/surgery developing, what he claims, is a skin that cannot burn. Aside from a few colleagues he talks to at work functions and presentations, he spends the majority of his time with his maid, Marilia, and a woman called Vera (Elena Anaya). The latter he keeps locked in a room next his bedroom and on whom he conducts his skin experiments. To say anymore would do the film no real justice.The Skin I Live In is macabre melodrama that reaches out to sci-fi with one hand and strokes the cheek of horror with the other. And, like the previous sentence, it’s a little bit pretentious. Only a bit mind.
The film is broken up into three definable acts. The first comes across as a hurricane of information. People shout, point, run in and out rooms, get raped, shout some more, get shot and then finish off the day shouting. It does what it was in doubt intended to do; grab you by the throat and encourage you to pay attention. The second act is a slower affair detailing the events that led to all the shouting, shooting and pointing. Like coming off the motorway onto a residential street, the change of gear is noticeable and somewhat jarring, but before long Banderas becomes brooding and psychotic and your throat is grabbed again. The final and shortest act can be seen as a bit of a let down. Vera’s story ends in such an understated manner that you feel a little bit cheated. Oh yes, there’s more shouting and pointing, but it doesn’t last very long.
Opening with Anaya performing yoga, Pedro Almodóvar ensures that his leads are immaculate and that each scene they’re in is equally beautiful. The beauty of the photography reflecting Ledgard’s quest for perfection, whilst, like Vera, hiding the layers of revenge and violence beneath. The Skin I Live In is not an easy film to watch from a moralistic point of view. With the exception of Roberto Álamo as Marilia’s demented son, no one is entirely good or bad. Banderas, himself, goes from sympathetic to repulsive to sympathetic a number of times, whilst the reveal of Vera’s backstory will have you pondering which side you’re on long after the film has finished.
Overall, The Skin I Live In is one of the last great films of 2011 and 2012 will hopefully see it get some more recognition.