The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw says Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In “has a fanatical intensity… It is twisted and mad, and its choreography and self-possession are superb… ”
The Skin I Live In is adapted from the 2003 novel Mygale (Tarantula) by Thierry Jonquet, but clearly Almod√≥var has taken something from Georges Franju’s 1960 film Eyes Without a Face and possibly also Alejandro Amen√°bar’s Open Your Eyes from 1997. It is also conceivable that he wants us to think of Evelyn Waugh’s story Love Among the Ruins.
But influences and allusions are almost beside the point, given the fact that almost every scene, every shot, must remind you of every other Almod√≥var picture. As ever, it is sleek and stylishly furnished, sensually charged with richness and colour, and splashes and gashes of red. There is a surging Hitchcockian orchestral score and a breathless sense of imminent violence: handguns are coolly disclosed in desk-drawers and expensive ladies’ handbags; crime scenes are established in stunning overhead shots.
As in many of his films, family secrets are revealed through lengthy flashbacks ‚Äì something forbidden to contemporary Hollywood screenwriters. There is the doppelganger motif, and the younger guy who likes partying and drugs; there are staircase scenes and scenes in which a middle-aged man watches the object of his desire, enraptured, on a large screen. And perhaps most startling, and most characteristic of all, there is Almod√≥var’s great theme of transsexual identity, which speaks of passion, fantasy and escape. The director himself, in various masks and guises, is present in all of this.
For those who would like Almod√≥var to do something radical ‚Äì and this was rather how this movie had been misleadingly billed here in Cannes ‚Äì then The Skin I Live In might try the patience. But I can only say that it kept me gripped from first to last. The sheer muscular confidence of Almod√≥var’s film-making language gives it force, and co-exists with a dancer’s elegance and grace.
Kirk Honeycutt at THR wonders, “how much of this is being delivered with tongue-in-cheek panache or how emotionally invested the auteur is in his Dr. Frankenstein character”?
As implausible as it might seem, the cinema world of Pedro Almod√≥var just got stranger in The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito). Along with such usual Almod√≥var obsessions as betrayal, anxiety, loneliness, sexual identity and death, the Spanish director has added a science-fiction element that verges on horror. But like many lab experiments, this melodramatic hybrid makes for an unstable fusion. Only someone as talented as Almod√≥var could have mixed such elements without blowing up an entire movie.
…While Almod√≥var is clearly rummaging through old films and film genres that by his own admission include Bu√±uel, Hitchcock, Lang and Franju as well as Hammer horror and Dario Argento kitsch, he mostly is going after the theme of identity. As the old saying goes, beauty is only skin deep, to which Almod√≥var adds that skin can only encase one‚Äôs identity or soul. For the skin can change, the soul cannot.
…The film‚Äôs design, costumes and music, especially Alberto Iglesias‚Äô music, present a lushly beautiful setting, which is nonetheless a prison and house of horror. Almod√≥var pumps his movie full of deadly earnestness and heady emotions. There are well-timed laughs that lessen the melodrama and underscore that Almod√≥var remains ever a prankster. No one is better at tying imagery to emotions, yet even Almod√≥var realizes that, as Hitchcock would say, ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs only a movie, Ingrid.‚Äù
(Having read the book, I already know more about the movie than I probably should, though it sounds like Almodovar has veered wildly away from the novel’s narrative arc to resurface the story in a fresh skin of his own creation. But I’m going to gloss over all the plot details in these excerpts.)
Eric Kohn at IndieWire seems to be least impressed of any reviewer thus far, calling the film, “a meandering, tonally confused work,” but two lines later conceding Almodovar, “has a good time with outrageous plot twists and offbeat sexual intrigue… he lets the mess pile up and enjoys it.”
While Almod√≥var takes a long time revealing the mystery, the outcome doesn‚Äôt justify the build-up. Hitchcock would have turned this material into a credible thriller and Cronenberg might emphasize its visceral qualities, but Almod√≥var never brings any single ingredient into focus. With the exception of the white face mask that Banderas forces on Vera while making her go through a major physical transition, ‚ÄúSkin‚Äù lacks the sensationalistic imagery one might expect from Almod√≥var. Cinematographer Jos√© Luis Alcaine keeps the images loud and expressionistic, but there‚Äôs not much to look at.
Still, the director does string together a strangely appealing atmosphere. It‚Äôs one that will be familiar to his fans for its extreme melodramatic overstatement and surrealistic twists brought to life with intentionally ludicrous delivery. The plot begins in 2012, flashes back six years and then informs us with a casual title card that we‚Äôre ‚Äúback in the present.‚Äù Echoing his early days (I was reminded at times of ‚ÄúMatador,‚Äù a far superior Banderas collaboration), Almod√≥var creates the lingering possibility that anything can happen, with no character‚Äôs life being sacred enough to survive the next scene.
The origin story that informs the doctor‚Äôs epidermal obsession‚Äîhis wife committed suicide after burning her face in an accident‚Äîmakes it clear he‚Äôs capable of anything. Vera, however, is not merely a damsel in distress; the act that led Ledgard to make her into his guinea pig almost justifies his deranged behavior. Almod√≥var takes this material in several directions, sometimes toying with horror pastiche, and occasionally simply ramping up the suspense. The result is an inventive set-up that wanders around, as if Almod√≥var just wanted the opportunity to move away from the dramatic turf where he has resided of late. If nothing else, ‚ÄúSkin‚Äù illustrates that a throwback doesn‚Äôt necessarily equate with a return to form.
I trust most of you readers feel the same way I do: While the latest crudity from Michael Bay or the Farrelly brothers may be critic-proof for regular ticket-buyers, words like “melodramatic overstatement,” “intentionally ludicrous delivery” and “offbeat sexual intrigue” make The Skin I Live In sound like the sort of mess I wanna wallow in.