Sunday, 28 August 2011

The Skin I Live In (aka La Piel Que Habito)

Skins Of The Father

The Skin I Live In (aka La Piel Que Habito)
2011 Spain
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Screening at UK cinemas

There are no spoilers in this review as such. That’s because there’s not a heck of a lot I could give away and the one big twist in this movie (which in a way is the only spoiler I could give... the fact that this movie does indeed have a twist)... is quite a major thing and, itself, gets revealed about two thirds of the way through the movie. I didn’t figure out what it was myself until about 20 minutes before it was revealed during a series of flashback sequences and I blame my own assumptions and expectations from seeing the trailer and some publicity stills for not getting there way sooner (more on that in a moment) like most people would.

One thing I will say though is that I’m kinda glad, in a way, that I wasn’t aware of the nature of the twist before going to see the film because the subject matter holds no interest for me and I would have simply not bothered going to see this if I’d known. Which would have been a shame because I’ve found myself inadvertently following this director’s career since I first saw Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (aka Átame!) at the Lumiere cinema back in 1990. That was also the last film that Antonia Banderas worked on with his muse Almodóvar before “going international” and becoming something of a Big Hollywood Movie Star. His return to the Almodóvar brand, and it really is a brand at this point, is very welcome and although I had trouble with certain aspects of the movie, Banderas is his usual, brilliant self in this film.

Now when I saw the trailer for this movie and some of the beautiful stills from it, I immediately assumed this movie would be a dual homage to both Jess Franco’s 1961 movie The Awful Doctor Orloff and Georges Franju’s 1960 movie Eyes Without A Face... and I suppose in some ways it’s lineage could certainly be traced back there. However, the film lacks the post-modernistic referencing I get from most movies these days... that is to say, Almodóvar’s homage in this particular instance was a lot more subtle than I thought it would be... I think I’ve become brainwashed by the blatant eclecticism of lots of modern American movies to appreciate the low-key homage that is going on here. Almodóvar quite rightly serves the story first and foremost... and not the collective geekiness of people like myself.

The pre-publicity also got me thinking that the movie would be serving as a continuation of the long tradition of masked heroes and anti-heroes established in early 1900s French pulp literature and it’s influence... you know, Eric from Phantom of the Opera, Fantômas... maybe even a little of the Italian Diabolik thrown in for good measure. Not to mention characters such as Kriminal and Satanik! Alas, although certain elements of the style of the imagery from these does find it’s way into this movie, this is in no way intentional (I believe) and is just another symptom of the visual devices used to service the story... which, of course, is exactly what it should be.

Now Almodóvar is a bit hit and miss for me but, in recent years, he’s been far more hit than miss and I have to say that the trailer didn’t sell this as being your typical Almodóvar movie (if there’s such a thing as a typical Almodóvar movie... and I think there is). Certainly, for a while there after the film started, it didn’t quite seem to be what I would associate with Almodóvar, outside from the characteristic clean and bright visual style, of course. But as the film snakes along at a fairly cracking pace, you begin to recognise the key Almodóvar trademarks like the extended flashback sequences and the way they change your perceptions of the characters you’ve been living with for the last three quarters of an hour. It seems, after all, that we are on typical Almodóvar territory after all and I was almost disappointed at this turn of events in some ways but I really don’t know what I’m complaining about.

It’s certainly not boring and the colours and cinematography are absolutely cracking. There’s some absolutely brilliant stuff of Banderas giving a presentation at the start of the film via a computer where that particular light source (given a little help from the on-set lighting no doubt) gives him a severe case of sinister, old school 1930s Universal Horror lighting and this, combined with Antonia Banderas’ riveting performance, harking back to a long line of “mad scientists” of the motion pictures over the last 100 or more years, will certainly hold you in rapt and contemplative attention. All the performances in this movie, in fact, are of the usual high standard you would expect from the players in this director’s works... and that’s a big positive reason for giving this one some of your time.

A negative I had is that the musical cue so prominent in the theatrical trailer, and which gave the images on screen such a sinister and off-beat feel, only materialises briefly to score a small part of one sequence. It is not typical of the rest of Iglesias’ score throughout the movie which, although serviceable, was not really as stand out as I was expecting it to be... at least not within the context of supporting the film itself at any rate. I’m not sure how it will play outside of the film as a stand alone work.

My conclusion to this experiment is, thus, simple. The Skin I Live In is a double revenge movie. I’m not going to say why or how but you’ll realise why it is about halfway through seeing it. It has elegantly framed, clean shots with nice, bright colours and is leisurely edited, as you would expect from this director. I was personally left a little empty and uninspired by it and I think that was, more than anything, due to the impossible expectations I’d put on it. I can’t do anything, however, than recommend this fine movie to anyone who’s interested in it. Definitely worth a watch if Almodóvar is one of your directors of choice.


  1. The thing with the double revenge though is that the second revenge is hardly a revenge compared to the first, the first is a far far worse fate.

  2. Not really. The guy is desperately attracted to his co-worker who is a lesbian so he couldn't go out with her. Now he can. Bonus. Happy ending!