Monday, May 28, 2012

The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar)

He's got her under the skin.

Pedro Almodovar, known for films that contain unique mixtures of human comedy, dramatic absurdity and gender commentaries, is unusually darker and bizarre in "The Skin I Live In", a film that greatly offers a very, very morbid take on grief and infatuation but is also able to preserve some of Almodovar's trademark humor, albeit a more underlying one. 

As if partly inspired by Victor Frankenstein's travails or even Scottie Ferguson's (of Hitchcock's "Vertigo") obsessive fixation towards a mysterious blonde woman, Almodovar's cinematic touches in this film are infinitely more brooding and, in some ways, also more pitiful in tone as it brings our protagonist, a brilliant plastic surgeon named Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), into a fate already sealed by certain doom and imminent futility as he obsesses himself in endless experimentation with a mysterious woman named Vera (Elena Anaya).

I know, I know, there has been an almost automatic requirement for any film review to contain at least two to three sentence plot synopsis so that readers can familiarize themselves to whatever film the reviewer is tackling, ranting or plainly rambling about. But with me excluding one in this review, do think of this as a favor. See the film for yourself and be enlightened of what may be one of the most unique cinematic experiences that you may ever lay your senses upon for quite a while. Now, with that being said, let's go back to the review proper (or something like that). 

Obsession and tragedy, these has been one of the more recurring themes on film as far as the 'mad scientist' sub-genre is concerned ever since Victor Frankenstein found out (maybe 'discovered' is the posh word) that electricity can resurrect the dead. It has been nothing but a tired cinematic vehicle, but just like David Cronenberg's "The Fly", "The Skin I Live In" offers a truly thought-provoking story and some unforgettable characters that genuinely remind us of the potential narrative and emotional power that the said sub-genre really has. 

But with that being said, it does not mean that "The Skin I Live In" merely exists within the 'mad scientist' boundaries and not a step more. Instead, the film's quality is truly multifaceted that viewers may attend the theater runs with different expectations but can still come out individually satisfied in different ways. 

To watch the film expecting a tense and suspenseful film, one would not be disappointed. If one comes into the film expecting a humane film about flawed love and emotional tragedy, you won't be let down either. Perhaps this is how Pedro Almodovar has intended the film to be seen: as a deeply human film about the inhumanity of cognitive and emotional irrationality that balances profundity and some suspenseful storytelling. But still, I believe those are not the main reasons that has made this film a truly special one. For me, it was Almodovar and his trademark directorial self that has. 

A filmmaker known for his sensitive and tender approach to gender-bending narratives, Almodovar has made the film sexually unnerving and shocking in the surface for the purpose of capturing enough attention so that his real message concealed within the film's sensational imagery can be absorbed more thoroughly, which now reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk's novel "Rant". 

In there, the main character's mother used to put thumbtacks or other mouth-crimsoning objects into foods that she cooks. In that way, she sternly believes, their great taste would appeal to the palate more competently because you've dissected through the meal to get there. In layman's terms, she believes that ecstasy comes after difficulty, which is what "The Skin I Live In" is all about. Beneath the detestably explicit visual content, there lies Almodovar's ever-compelling gender commentary, waiting to enlighten its audience with what it has to say. 

A perfect companion piece or, should I say, a more twisted cinematic brother to "All About my Mother", "The Skin I Live In" raises questions that provoke not just the mind and the heart but also the very perception of one's own gender and where does it really reside: In the mind, in the genitals, or in the heart?

Whether it is in a person's physical appearance or somewhere deeper is not what's important. Even Almodovar is cautious enough not to preach his side all throughout the film. What counts is that he was able to raise this very idea seamlessly, with capable emotions and with proper humanity, within the film. As the plot twist (yes, there is one) reveals itself, it's not much about how it was unveiled, but how it affects us afterwards. Call it an emotional twist if you may. 

With a penetrating story, powerful performances, notably those of Antonio Banderas (overlooked) and Elena Anaya (terribly unnoticed), and a sobering outlook that questions the requisites of what really makes one man or woman, not mentioning the effectively dream-like visuals and musical scoring, Almodovar's "The Skin I Live In" is, bar no genres, one of the best films of 2011.


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