By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
The morality of the mad-scientist tale has remained more or less fixed since the beginning of sound cinema: From Dr. Frankensteins hubristic claim to know what it feels like to be God, to Jurassic Parks criticism of scientists [who] were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didnt stop to think if they should, these are generally stories about scientific innovators who are essentially good menor were until they got so carried away with their own powers of creation that they lost sight of their innovations implications and suffered the consequences.
The main narrative strand of Pedro Almodóvars The Skin I Live In hews to that template but to unusual ends. A postmodern homage to Hitchcock that raises the Master of Suspenses implicit sexual obsessions to the textual level, its moral compass is totally, thrillingly whacked, as Almodóvar dispenses with traditional notions of good versus evil, perpetrators and victims.
Based on Thierry Jonquets novel Tarantula, Almodóvars 18th feature stars Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who develops a revolutionary new human skin that ultimately plays a role in the doctors diabolical plot to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter. The link between Dr. Ledgards invention and that payback is Vera (Elena Anaya), a beautiful patient whom the doctor keeps in a two-way-mirror-equipped room in the palatial home he shares with his longtime maid (Marisa Paredes). Its probably not much of a surprise that no member of this triangle is exactly who they seem to be, but to explain more about Skins relationships would spoil much of the pleasure in this ever-unfurling, ultimately infuriating web of a film.
The film is most exciting at its most disorienting, mired in a dreamlike state of confusion that Almodóvar produces masterfully but does not let last too long. It turns out that one of the directors first shots, a pan across a Louise Bourgeois coffee-table book, offers both a key to the movies themesthe Bourgeoisian territory of father-daughter relationships, sexuality as vulnerability, the body as a constructionand an introduction to its habit of short-circuiting the viewers imagination by literally putting explanatory texts center screen. Taking a good deal of its running time to supply all of the backstory necessary to fully understand its first string of images, The Skin I Live In ends with no plot hole left unfilled.
To this end, the film deflates in its final third, with crude matter-of-fact set pieces, dumb explanatory psychology, and bursts of intentional camp overwhelming and canceling out the unmoored creepiness. You could say that Almodóvar makes the classic mistake of the mad scientist: In doing a postmodern reinvention of old-fashioned thriller tropes, he gets so caught up in the experiment that he kills the basic pleasures of the genre.
No, the end works, in it's Hitchcock meets Cronemberg meets John Waters melange. Almodovar always wants his viewers surprised, uncomfortable and shifting their perspective on and allegiance to his characters. As a gender-bending homage to both Hitchcock and (less obviously) Lovecraft, this film is smart and almost perfect. Everything is filtered through Almodovar's own politics.
jess franco already made such junk, with telly savalas and that french porn star briggite lahrie in FACELESS.
and bandaras starting to look as rough as his wife, melanie fish lips griffith...woof!
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