Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar is most certainly a Spanish national treasure by this point. With good reason. His movies are not easy and even though the imagery is often lush and cinematic, the subject matter can be deeply troubling. His latest directing and co-writing (with his brother Agustin) effort The Skin I Live In is no different.
Antonio Banderas plays Robert Legard – a plastic surgeon, who lives in a beautiful old home that looks like something out of a 60s spy movie on the inside. Also in the house is a beautiful and troublingly unblemished-looking young woman named Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) who is clearly Legard’s prisoner. Robert has a resident maid named Marilia (Marisa Paredes) who helps look after (or keep watch over) Vera whenever he is out of the house on business. The early unease surrounding Vera is deepened by Marilia’s comment that Vera looks exactly like Robert’s dead wife.
So we gather that Robert has transformed this young woman into a living model of his wife. Sure that is creepy enough—to learn that a man has changed a woman’s physical identity to conform to something he remembers about another person? But in an Almodóvar movie that little bit of information is merely the tip of the iceberg. It was–in turns–troubling, dread-inducing and then (mildly) amusing to learn of Vera’s origins and since I went in totally clueless the overall effect was greater and more satisfying.
The Skin I Live In is a film about identity and how individual identity can be robbed through acts of madness, betrayal, rape and extended terms of servitude. It is based on a crime novel by French writer Thierry Jonquet and it was interesting for me to see how a story with those origins evolved into an Almodóvarian tale.
Elena Anaya delivers a performance of brittle strength as Vera and the quiet desperation in her eyes keeps us engaged in her ordeal. Mr. Banderas is suitably creepy as a modern day Dr. Frankenstein (yup, it is lazy literary metaphor time) but the impact of his character’s actions are delivered more through the twists and turns in the narrative than by the actor’s performance. He is not bad, just…one-note most of the time.
Almodóvar movies often make me uncomfortable but by the time this movie was done I was left impressed that the filmmaker had managed to get another outlandish narrative funded, filmed, and released.