The Skin I Live In

As the ads and trailers finally came to an end, the BBFC slide appeared on screen: “La Piel Que Habito – The Skin I Live In.”
“So is this film in Spanish?” asked the man behind me very loudly. I tried not to laugh out loud.
“Yes,” said the lady I presume was his wife, and who’d clearly determined what film they’d be watching on a Saturday night.
“Oh.”
I’d suggest that they may have relationship “issues”, but the second the credits at the end of the film started to appear, the man who didn’t know how to speak quietly then said “They make mad films, the Spanish, don’t they?”
I think he enjoyed it.
The most important thing to know about The Skin I Live In is that you really need to go in knowing as little as possible about the storyline. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to follow this advice having inadvertantly read something online a couple of months ago that turned out to be full of plot spoilers. You need know no more than the information provided in summary at IMDB:
A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.
The plastic surgeon is played by Antonio Banderas who hasn’t worked with director Pedro Almodovar since Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down back in 1990 (I recently watched this again on DVD and it’s terrific). Banderas’ surgeon is very wealthy and has one of those labs in the basement of his massive house that wouldn’t look out of place in a super-hero film. He’s proud of his new skin invention, although the authorities aren’t as pleased and suspect that he might now have just been testing it out on mice as he claims.
The mysterious woman who he’s been working with – Elena Anaya – is trapped in her room wearing a bodysuit of some description. Who she is, how she got there, and why she’s in what is effectively a prison is unclear.
Timelines jump around a little in this film as go back a few years at various points to allow backstories to be filled out. In time it all comes together…
In essence this is a science fiction film – the ability of Banderas’ surgeon to both create this remarkable new skin which we are told is both imperveous to heat and also mosquitos. But the themes are isolation, and what our physical bodies actually mean to us.
There is one nagging question which I couldn’t really answer when I came out. And I can’t go into it here. But it did leave me feeling a little unstatisfied. But overall this Almodovar truly on form. The performances are excellent, and the film looks fantastic. Although it runs to 120 minutes, the film never dawdles or dwells too long. And even though some of the subject matter is gruesome, this is no horror film. And if you felt unable to watch something like 127 Hours, you’ll be fine watching this (at least unless you’re truly squeamish about any kind of blood).