The Skin I Live In

By Moira Sullivan
Vera Cruz: Larger than Life
The Skin I Live In is Pedro Almodóvar’s latest freaky venture into dressing and undressing women. This time his cross dressing fetish involves Male to Female gender reassignment –forced reassignment as punishment for the attempted rape and later suicide of a surgeon's daughter.

There is much to be admired in the art direction of this film - in a sinister way: the Petri dishes that grow skin from fresh animal blood, the surgical gowns and dressings, and other accouterments of the operating room, and another room - a room where a young woman is kept prisoner who can not look out but is gazed upon - who uses mascara to create a living diary with tiny writing and small images, and fashions Louise Bourgeois creations of tattered torn up doll carcasses.

The glass wall that separates surgeon from patient is enlarged like a wide screen cinema. A remote camera is projected into the kitchen where the surgeons mother Marilia (Marisa Paredes) monitors the young woman’s activity and sends up food to her on a dumb waiter. 
All pieces of this story are shot in inverted order in different time sequences and this is clever work.  A young man who works in a woman’s clothing store - in keeping with Amodóvar’s fetish of course - Vicente (Jan Cornet) is kidnapped by the Frankenstein type surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard, played by Antonio Banderas. It is strange to have to point this out but in this case, gender reassignment takes on the form of a Frankenstein experiment. Not the Mary Shelley Frankenstein but the evil doers of the Boris Karloff lot. What can be worse than waking up with a woman’s body when you adore your body as a man? This puts The Skin I Live In on par with the Almodovar's controversial film Talk to Me about an orderly who rapes a young girl in a coma and brings her back to life and awakens her. Only in this case the relatives of the victim do not thank the perpetrator as they did the young ballet student raped by the orderly in Talk to Her. 

Vicente’s mother and friends are worried sick about his disappearance. In this case, the perpetrator played by a side of Banderas we have not met previously eventually allows himself to be seduced by Vera Cruz with huge glassy doll eyes played by the talented (Elena Anaya).

Almodóvar was worried that Talk to Her would not do well in America, and it needs to be said that it is not sure this one will fare well here either. Ever since its introduction at Cannes in May, The Skin I Live in has gotten more than minor criticism. The ironical and comical melodramas of Almodóvar’s previous work do not show any signs of life in The Skin I Live In. It is a somber and uncomfortable story but intriguing in a perfectly bizarre sense.

Almodovar ‘s penchant for ladies clothing, jewelry handbags, makeup, and wardrobe are all all on display and the product tie in for this film must have paid for it.

© 2011 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/3/11
Movie Magazine International