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Monday, 29 August 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Skin I Live In

Directed by: Pedro Almodovar

Produced by: Agustin Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar

Screenplay by: Pedro Almodovar

Based on: Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet

Starring: Antonio Banderas
Elena Anaya
Marisa Paredes
Jan Cornet
Roberto Alamo

Music by: Alberto Iglesias

Cinematography: Jose Luis Alcaine

Editing by: Jose Salcedo

Studio: El Deseo

Distributed by: Warners Espana
Sony Pictures Classics (United States)
20th Century Fox (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): May 19, 2011 (Cannes Film Festival)
August 26, 2011 (United Kingdom)
September 2, 2011 (Spain)
October 14, 2011 (United States)

Running time: 120 minutes

Country: Spain

Language: Spanish

Budget: €10 million

Another year gone for me. Yep, I'm a hundred and forty-nine years old, and getting myself geared up for the big one-five-o! On the topic of literature, I would really recommend John Ajvide Lindqvist's latest novel Harbour. A number of years ago, Lindqvist wrote Let The Right One In, one of my all-time favourite novels, and also wrote the screenplay for Thomas Alfredson's adaptation for the screen, for which he received a nomination for best screenplay from yours truly. Harbour exhibits the 'Lindqvist style' which has been consistent throughout his work, but multiplies the scale, making this quite the epic horror/thriller. Also, tonight I plan on embarking on what is sure to be a unique film experience in Pier Paolo Pasolini's final film Salo, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom, based on the book by the Marquis de Sade and noted for being one of the, if not the most controversial film ever made, a label bestowed upon it by Time Out in 2006.

Speaking of thrillers, the film for review today fits right into that genre. The Skin I Live In is the latest feature film by Pedro Almodovar, internationally renowned director of films such as All About My Mother and Volver. I can't say I know much about Almodovar as a filmmaker, but from what I can tell, this represents a bit a departure, as from the work I have seen he primarily crafts comedic dramas. A work that has a distinct gothic horror/thriller/melodrama feel to it not unlike Georges Franju's wonderful Eyes Without A Face, The Skin I Live In, set in Toledo in the year 2012, follows surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), who is holding a young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya), hostage, with the help of his servant Marilia (Paredes). He has developed a skin that cannot burn, which he claims has only been tested on mice, but in fact has subjected Vera to his surgical experiments. Knowledge of her existence would be scandalous to Robert, and when Zeca (Roberto Alamo), Marilia's son, arrives on the scene having committed a robbery, the wheels are set in motion for an extraordinary series of events (excuse the cliches!)

To start with the good about this film, I would have to single out the performances by the three main actors. Antonio Banderas gives a career best performance as Robert Ledgard. To watch him go through the proceedings of preparing his operations is a joy to behold, and excuse the pun, he really gets inside the skin of his character. We forget that it is Banderas playing the role, but it is simply Ledgard. Furthermore, the restraint that Banderas shows in playing Ledgard is appropriate and gives an edge to the role, especially considering the doubts the film throws up regarding his mental stability. Elena Anaya is terrific as Vera Cruz. Almodovar always writes brilliant roles for female actors, and this film is no exception. Her role is so layered that despite obvious duplicities in her personality, we believe her to be genuine in her emotions. Finally, Marisa Paredes completes this triangle, creating a strong maternal figure who acts as a sort of muse to Ledgard. Among many great things about Pedro Almodovar's films is their extraordinary mise-en-scene, and how they immerse into it's universe. Paco Delgado's costumes are wonderful, fitting the characters like a glove. A lot of people forget the importance of good costumes in expressing a character, and I feel that it is integral, particularly in the case of Vera Cruz' bodysuit, in contributing to the overall film. Also, Antxon Gomez' production design is a great achievement, in that not only is this a real world film, but that despite these features, it also has a certain eerie, gothic feel. Ledgard's home/surgery are like something out of a dream, the design having an exaggerated and surreal quality. Furthermore, I do not think that the film would have looked as good without the lighting and camerawork by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, so hats off to him. Finally, Pedro Almodovar himself must be praised for his work that contributes to making this a great film. His script is one of the best examples of writing I have seen this year. Dialogue-wise, the words coming from his character's mouths are believable, and bounces appropriately between the fine line of menace and humour. Almodovar never forgets that as thrilling as The Skin I Live In may be, it is also very absurd, and is a very funny film. Also, structurally, the script is very strong. It only feeds us a certain amount of information at any one time, so by the time we get the full picture, our perception of what has preceded has been completely changed. It is an example of master craftsmanship, and Almodovar should be commended for this. Also, it is his handling of a project that in anyone else's hands could have been a complete mess, considering the amount of different things going on in the film, that proves him a great director and makes The Skin I Live In one of the year's best films.

Despite The Skin I Live In excelling in many manners, there is a number of issues that stem from one central problem with the film, the problem being that it is I would say very 'chop-chop.' Now, chop-chop might not sound like great mastery of the English language, but I'm doing an English degree (not that this is a qualification for monopoly of opinion on the language) and chop-chop is the only phrase that comes to mind. I describe The Skin I Live In as chop-chop because as mentioned there are a lot of different things going on. Whenever a film, as this does, tries to cover all bases and as many different ideas as possible, the sheer mass of concepts end up dwarfing each other, and the film becomes less than the sum of it's parts. I won't explain much more, because it would involve giving away plot details, but having all these things mashed together, each of which could have been a theme to cover a single film alone, makes them seem a lot less meaningful when they have one another as a context. This chop-chop idea I have thrown up also affects the editing of the film. Many times throughout, despite showing restraint in other areas, Jose Salcedo's editing displays certain issues, such as bouncing around way too freely, that it ends up becoming quite migrainous. Also, I do not like at all the inclusion of intertitles that unveil a certain timeline of where each of the events fit in. As a thriller, it would be more 'thrilling', pardon a pardon, to have these overt explanations taken away and leave the audience in the dark. Although I am criticising Salcedo here, I still think that Almodovar must have had some input in this one, so I'm still questioning who's really at fault here.

Certain problems with the film's compendium of ideas, which goes into overdose territory, and Jose Salcedo's editing detract from an otherwise great film. The only good that has come out them perhaps (I'll be objective if I'm talking up my own boat) is the establishment of my 'chop-chop' theory. Despite these issues, The Skin I Live In is thoroughly worth your time, containing three great lead performances, a terrific mise-en-scene and writer-director who has crafted what I described to my friend during the credits as "a delightfully fucked-up film." A fine example of a strong and accessible thriller.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Zapped (I've had a long and busy day for someone who spends most of time sitting on his fat ass!)

P.S. Alberto Iglesia's does some cracking music for this film, so whoops to me for not flagging it up!

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