There was something about this film that filled me with great excitement. I’m not sure what it was, perhaps the main marketing shot that shows someone in a face mask, reminiscent of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho or David Aames in Vanilla Sky. Or perhaps it is Antonio Banderas’ steely cold yet seductive gaze that would make him perfect for James Bond (if only he was English. Indeed a conversation that has been rolled out sporadically with friends over the last few years). Whatever it was, the film doesn’t disappoint.
The Skin I Live In (or ‘The Skin I Inhabit’ depending on translation) on the face of things, tells the story about Roberty Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) who is a skilled and respected cosmetic surgeon. Since his wife was horrifically burnt in a car crash Ledgard has made it his life’s work to develop an artificial skin which is impervious to any external forces, whether this is burns or insect bites.
When he proposes his findings and research to the medical board, lording its advantages for burn victims and for counter acting malaria, they reject his proposals on the basis that trans-genesis (introducing a new genome into someone’s DNA) is highly unethical. Ledgard seems to take the rejection in good spirit, and although doesn’t agree with the decision, understands and accepts it. What we soon to discover is that his research has advanced a little further than he has disclosed, and he has successfully used his new skin on a human guinea pig called Vera (Elena Anaya).
From the off we see Vera as a captive within Ledgard’s home. It is obvious that she is a troubled soul, but is almost given to the audience as an obvious beauty with a sexual element and tone attached; she wears a skin tight natural coloured body suit which gives off the impression of her being naked, and even Ledgard seems to have a voyeuristic attraction to her.
Although we see him explaining the medical procedure to her which has been done, he also watches her on cameras as she lies on her bed and carries out Yoga. Her whole body has been used as a medical experiment, but one’s mind wanders more to the exquisiteness off her skin and good looks, and her highly provocative manner.
Saying what unravels as the film goes on would be truly spoilerific (even stay away from IMDB. which gives more than needs be in its synopsis).What sets out to be an erotic thriller quickly turns into something different, a psychological horror is a fitting genre. The events in Ledgard’s life have impacted on him in a much stronger way that is realised, and the story behind Vera’s imprisonment and the relationship between them is a remarkably disturbing circumstance.
Even with a medical element, what director Pedro Almodovar manages to provoke is an unsettling and ghastly response with little gore or blood. This will leave to re-living the torments of Vera long after the final credits have finished rolling. There is a point approximately 5 minutes before the end which would have made a far more startling conclusion, where Vera gives the impression of truly accepting the life and existence that Ledgard has made for her.
Elena Anaya has done very little in the past but I would not be surprised to see her re-appear somewhere again soon. She is an unbelievably attractive woman, who manages to give a rapturous performance as someone whose life has been altered in the most radical ways. Banderas does wonderfully as the callous, yet sympathy inducing surgeon. If only more of his films allowed him to showcase his dramatic talents as this does.
The Skin I Live In is a highly entertaining film, with a large dose of cerebral sickness thrown in.
The Skin I Live In Review [Cannes]