PLOT: A brilliant plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas), keeps a beautiful young lady named Vera (Elena Ayana) prisoner in his mansion, which is located on a sprawling estate. He uses her as a guinea pig for his revolutionary breakthroughs in plastic surgery, but after a time, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems- and that the line between victim and victimizer may not be as clear-cut as it seems.
REVIEW: THE SKIN I LIVE IN is Antonio Banderas’ long-awaited return to the world of Pedro Almodovar. The two haven’t made a film together since TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN, and the idea of the two reuniting after such a long separation will surely warm the heart of any cinephile. After all, if Almodovar and Banderas can re-team, maybe there’s still hope for another Scorsese/De Niro, or John Woo/Chow Yun-Fat collaboration.
But is THE SKIN I LIVE IN up to the standards of either Banderas’ or Almodovar’s best work? For Banderas, certainly. While he’s done some pretty decent films in North America, he was never as good as he was with Pedro, and with him mostly consigned to DTV cheapies (when not voicing PUSS IN BOOTS) this is his best role in years.
If anything, his role as the tortured Dr. Ledgard proves that he’s still a phenomenal performer. It’s a very difficult role. While initially, he comes off as some kind of avenger, before long it becomes clear that he’s a madman- although Banderas never goes the “foaming-at-the-mouth” route, with him essaying a kind of underplayed malice, where it’s obvious HE THINKS he’s a good man- even if he’s far from it.
The comparison has been made to Georges Franju’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE, and sure enough, they are similar. At times, THE SKIN I LIVE IN comes close to being a remake, but of course, Almodovar has some unseemly tricks up his sleeve that will catch even the sharpest filmgoer off guard. Once it became clear what the twist was, people in the TIFF audience I saw this with gasped, and to me, something like THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a REAL horror film- which makes this Almodovar’s first entry into the genre.
While this is Banderas’ finest work in years, I’m not as sure the same can be said for Almodovar. Sure, it’s good, but aren’t all of his films? For me, this is just a little short of being in his top tier, which for me is his early work with Banderas, along with the great ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, and BAD EDUCATION.
Still it’s a chilling tale, made even more memorable by a phenomenal performance by the beautiful Elena Ayana. A lot has been said over Ayana playing the role rather than Penelope Cruz, but it’s understandable once you see the film. Cruz’ sex-symbol status would have been inappropriate, and at worst could have made the film ludicrous.
Overall, THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a pretty scary little piece of bio-horror, and easily more chilling than anything something like THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE could throw our way. Almodovar brings class and sophistication to material that could have been exploitative. It’s an assured work by a master filmmaker, and well worth your time.