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The Skin I Live In

Year: 2011
Production Co: Blue Haze Entertainment
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writer: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya

The fractured continuity makes it a bit like Pedro Almodovar doing Quentin Tarantino. At first the multiple threads of the movie seem to have nothing to do with each other. In one, renowned plastic surgeon Robert (Banderas) has a beautiful young woman – Vera (Anaya) – prisoner in his swish house, known only to his patient but creepy housekeeper.

Wearing a flesh-coloured bodysuit, Vera seems to be a project he's partway through remaking, and you'll wonder just what kind of patient she is. It's soon obvious he's a man driven by obsessions and maybe crazy. Even though he's developed a groundbreaking synthetic skin to treat burn victims, Robert only seems to want to perfect it to apply to Vera, like she's an artistic work in progress.

The script then wields several subplots that it takes its time weaving together, revealing the twist that makes it the closest thing an arthouse director like Almodovar gets to a horror movie on the Cronenbergian spectrum.

One is of Robert's pretty teenaged daughter and the young man who convinces her to steal away into the bushes with him in the midst of a formal party, a rendezvous we'll learn drives Robert's unseen rage. Another is of the same young man working at his mother's clothing boutique. When he leaves work one night a car shadows his moped along a lonely stretch of road, knocking him down so the driver can take him captive.

We soon learn the driver is Robert himself, and we have no idea why he takes the boy captive and starts to talk about the surgical procedures he's going to do on him.

And when the admittedly sci-fi concept is revealed, it's never played with anything less than dead seriousness. Almodovar's clean lined, clinical approach references the world Robert lives in of cleanliness and care in the face of the messy realities of the body, and Banderas portrays a simmering malevolence, barely glimpsed in full but driving the character's fierce, silent madness.

There's a lot about the nature of identity in the face of gender underneath it all, but it'll keep you on your toes too much just keeping up with the narrative to absorb most of that stuff until you think about it later.

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