La piel que habito (The Skin I Live in) is a 2011 movie directed by Pedro Almodóvar (I reviewed a couple of his movies here and here) starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya. It really disappointed me: after an intriguing first part, I think that Pedro Almodóvar showed his limitations in handling a difficult subject and used the least interesting trick of all to make the plot advance: telling rather than showing. But let me explain and please be aware that, in this case, I cannot avoid spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, do so before continuing reading if you want to avoid the damned spoilers!
So, the first part of the movie is really interesting. A young girl, Vera (played by the beautiful Elena Anaya) is kept locked in a room and we understand that Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a well-known surgeon, is keeping her prisoner. We don’t understand the relationship between the two, but she’s certainly unhappy: she tries to commit suicide by cutting her veins! Moreover, the maid Marilia (Marisa Paredes, who worked with Almodóvar in All about my mother as well) says some strange things about her that we fail to fully understand… in short, it’s an intriguing mystery. And the mystery thickens when the son of Marilia, wanted by the police, shows up at the villa disguised as a tiger (it’s Carnival time…), notices Vera, ties her mother down, enters the prisoner’s room and rapes her while telling her that he wants to make love with her like in the old days. And that’s when Ledgard comes back home and kills him with a pistol.
Wow! What is happening? Where will the movie go from here? How will the plot develop? Unfortunately, the answers to all these questions are absolutely disappointing. Ledgard begins to talk with Marilia who explains (to the audience) all the facts that led to the events that we have just witnessed. Basically, she reveals that Ledgard is also his son and he has just killed his half-brother who, years ago, was the lover of Ledgard’s wife. She died in a car accident and she is physically identical to Vera! We also find out that after the accident Ledgard had the responsibility to raise his daughter alone. And here the film stops for a series of flashbacks in which we see this depressed daughter after her mother’s death. As if this were not enough, she is raped at a party (by Jan Cornet) and commits suicide shortly thereafter. And what does Ledgard do? He kidnaps the rapist and begins to change his physical appearance until he becomes… Vera, the prisoner (the change of sex surgery is the first thing he does to him).
Not surprisingly, given what happened, when we return to the present time at the first opportunity Vera kills Ledgard and returns to his mother saying that he is his son, although his/her appearance says otherwise. The end.
What I really disliked is how Almodóvar decided to tell the story. In the hands of a director like Amenábar (I’m thinking about Abre los ojos) or Cronenberg (I’m thinking about Dead ringers), for example, this could have been a much better movie. But La piel que habito starts with a mystery which is then unraveled in the most boring way possible. That’s awful. It looks like Almodóvar didn’t know how to handle the genre of this film, which is also quite evident in the action scenes which, and I’m being generous, are painful to watch. Both the pursuit of the motorcyclist / rapist and the shootouts are static and extremely clunky.
As for the rest of the movie, as usual we can admire the inventiveness of Almodóvar in the use of the camera (he likes overhead shots, that’s for sure!), in the use of colors, and in the direction of the actors (it’s impressive how the transformation from Jan Cornet to Elena Anaya appears credible). And the usual Almodovarian themes are also there: sexual ambiguity, the return (in this case with the features of the death wife reappearing in the body of the daughter’s abuser), the complexity of families, the violence linked to passion and love… but I still find it undercooked. It’s curious, it certainly has potential, but I was disappointed. Ciao!
Update: now I’ve seen Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown (1988) too!