Spanish icon Pedro Almodóvar lives up to his reputation for originality with this stunning take on the horror genre that references everyone from Alfred Hitchcock through Luis Buñuel and Dario Argento. All the Almodóvar obsessions with sexual identity, death and betrayal are here in the tale of a Frankenstein-like plastic surgeon and academic (played with considerable aplomb by Antonio Banderas) who has been working on a formula to create a new skin ever since his late wife was burned in a car crash 12 years ago. Almodóvar and Banderas has always been a match made in cinematic heaven, and the receipts for this film's stateside release should be similarly celestial.
Adapted from the novel Mygale (Tarantula) by Thierry Jonquet, Almodóvar and his brother Agustin spin this stylish tale and locate it in the lush and beautiful setting of the surgeon's mansion. Some of the story elements are played for laughs, with the director showing his penchant for confounding our expectations and leading us down all manner of byways.
Eventually, he manages to create a skin that would shield the recipient from harm. To test it out he seeks out his trusty accomplice Marilia (Marisa Paredes) and a test subject named Vera (Elena Anaya) who's being groomed for the purpose. He wants the subject to resemble his late wife as much as possible.
Vera spends much of the film in yoga positions, wearing a flesh-colored body stocking to protect her "inner self" as the doctor gets to work. (The wrapping may change but the soul remains the same.) Surrounding all of this, family secrets are revealed in flashbacks: this is how we meet a young junkie (Jan Cornet), the surgeon's daughter (Bianca Suárez) and a middle-aged man obsessed with his object of desire.
In less skilled hands the convoluted machinations of The Skin I Live In could have turned sour, but Pedro Almodóvar cooks up the ingredients into a spicy gazpacho of overpowering melodrama that invigorates the tastes buds.
There are points in common with just about every film Almodóvar has ever made, especially his 2009 Broken Embraces. "Science is leading us into an abyss and we don't know where we'll end up. In the future humans may be totally transformed," said Almodóvar at Cannes, where this film premiered.
Nobody concocts this mix of dark comedy, high drama and sublimated desire better than Spain's most flamboyant export. Bravo!
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classic
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Alamo, Blanca Suárez, Eduard Fernádez
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenwriters/Producers: Pedro Almodóvar, Agustin Almodóvar
Genre: Thriller; Spanish-language, subtitled
Running time: 116 min.
Release date: Unset