Review: The Skin I Live In

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The title and trailer for Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In are racy, titillating and suggest a deep pathos. The film delivers on all those fronts. But whether it works as a story depends on how compelling one finds the cleverly masked obsession at its core. It's got the colorful cinematography typical of Almodovar's films and he crafted a suitably beautiful film for the story.

Dr. Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) is an accomplished plastic surgeon. His extensive wealth is displayed in the beautiful Spanish villa he occupies — and where he maintains his private surgical facilities and practice. Taking his work out of a hospital and setting it in a palatial home filled with art highlights the more romantic and sometimes melodramatic portrayal of his quest to work magic through plastic surgery, and as a scientific dabbler, he flirts with all manner of ethical problems. It gives the film an edge early on as he delivers a briefing to other physicians and describes a new human skin he has developed that is unappetizing to mosquitoes. It's the first suggestion of a mad scientist at work. But when he subjects the hybrid flesh to a small torch, one wonders if Almodovar means to imply he's a sadist as well, although the doctor means no harm while performing his test.

Ledgard continues to treat Vera (Elena Anaya) at his villa, although she clearly has had enough. They have a unique bond to say the least, and his obsession is unrelenting. Once fully revealed, however, it's also implausible in a couple important ways. The film also veers from paternalism into bizarre moments of misogyny. Although one can see all the vital parts of Almodovar's scheme, the film's Frankenstein-like scheme doesn't rage fully to life. The necessary love/hate relationship never quite works. The film is nonetheless very pretty to look at, and falling short of horror, it's entertaining for some gratuitous melodrama as well. Even with its flaws, it's a compelling and memorable film.

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