The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)

Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, and Roberto Álamo

Every once in a while, there's a movie that just disgusts me.  It absolutely disgusts me and leaves a lump in my stomach.  This doesn't happen too often.  When I do see a movie like this, I know it will unfortunately be etched in my memory for quite some time.  This is what happened when I recently sat down to watch Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In.

Surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) has developed synthetic skin that is resistant to burns and insect bites.  To the world, he's been testing athymic mice collectively called "GAL".  Behind closed doors, he's actually been developing this skin by conducting a series of experimental operations on a woman named Vera (Elena Anaya).  With the help of his housekeeper Marilla (Marisa Paredes), Robert keeps Vera imprisoned in his home.  The reasons for which he does this to Vera and what she actually looked like prior to these operations are unknown.  All roads for an explanation lead to Robert's past and one fateful night when his late daughter Norma (Blanca Suárez) met a boy by the name of Vicente (Jan Cornet).

I'm keeping my summary of The Skin I Live In minimal.  I don't want to give too much away.  If you watch it, you should be equally as shocked and disgusted as I was watching the film.  The film takes you to a very sick, twisted place.  With that being said, Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In is a well-made film.  Almodóvar himself has said that the film is intended to be a horror film without screams, and I think the auteur has accomplished his intended goal.  It challenges every conventional notion of bioethics, gender identity, and sexuality you can possibly fathom and leaves you in a cold, weird place.  The Skin I Live In is not terrifying, it's downright revolting.  Just thinking about it, I need a drink.

While his character Robert repulses me, I have to respect Antonio Banderas's performance in this movie.  He shows how paternal love can plunge a father into the depths of hell.  There are so many facets to Banderas's character, and he approaches the role with such a nuanced performance.  In thoughtfully caring for Norma and his debilitated wife, Robert shows a soft, paternal side.  In relentlessly researching synthetic skin, he shows a determined, diligent side to his character.  In violently dealing with Vera's assailant, Roberto Álamo's Zeca, he shows us a dark, vindictive side.  The veteran actor Banderas approaches this complex character with the utmost skill. 

The supporting cast delivers strong performances as well.  Elena Anaya takes on possibly the most complex character of the film as Vera.  While her character embodies everything that disgusts me in this movie as Robert's "Frankenstein", she also embodies a character with a serious identity crisis. This is an extremely serious issue her character is facing that Anaya approaches with the greatest delicacy.  Additionally, Marisa Paredes provides the conscience of the film despite a few minor moral lapses on her character’s part.  As the elder on set, Paredes brings warmth and emotion to this otherwise disturbing film.

Orgies, experimental surgeries, and rape are enough to turn me away from Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In.  This was a tough one to finish.  Nonetheless, I recognize that this is a well-done film by a masterful director.  Pedro Almodóvar's mission is accomplished.  The film disgusts me in a very sick way.  Colorful music and vibrant Spanish culture cannot fully counteract the dark, twisted themes of this movie.  Admittedly, this is not my type of flick, nor is it probably yours.  It's still a good movie though.  Like any Almodóvar flick, it's a little strange but always engrossing.  Because of this, The Skin I Live In gets a 0.03% rating.  Pop open a few wine coolers for this one.