“Clothes make me feel claustrophobic. I wish I could stay naked all the time.”
‘The Skin I Live In’, directed by Pedro Almodóvar in 2011, is a dark, psychological horror movie. The story centres on an unhinged plastic surgeon, Robert who is keeping a woman, Vera hostage, apparently to experiment on her to test a new type of artificial skin. As the film progresses, through a series of flashbacks, it transpires that the relationship between Robert and Vera is a complex one and has its routes in the death of the surgeon’s wife and an attack on his daughter. Almodóvar’s movie plays with themes of loss and the extremes of revenge and builds a relentless tension through its mixture of scenes of violence and melodrama and scenes of almost lyrical reflection on the circumstances of the story. It’s difficult to fully explain the power of the film without revealing its central twist, but aspects of Almodóvar’s earlier film ‘All About My Mother’, particularly the fluidity between genders, are repeated here, albeit with a much darker and macabre edge. It also makes a fetish of bare skin: many of the characters expose flesh not only for erotic purposes but also as part of their vulnerability. In many ways it’s a glossy fantasy, colourful and distanced from the real world; the surgeon lives in a sterile house and the film focuses on the material aspects of his life, but this fairy-tale sheen to the film matches its focus on the surface (the skin) of things. Finally, the film is really made by the strong and, at times subtle, at times suitably heightened performances by both Antonio Banderas as the humourless and psychotic surgeon, and Elena Anaya as Vera.
Would I recommend it? Yes – perhaps as part of a Pedro Almodóvar binge.