When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Do you see yourself? Or is it sometimes more a manifestation of yourself? An image with no soul perhaps. An already touchy subject just got touchier with The Skin I Live In, directed by Pedro Almodovar.
Almodovar is intrigued by women, and his films reflect this (All About My Mother , Volver ), but with this new venture he smashes barriers; barriers of skin tissue that is. Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a brilliant plastic surgeon who believes he has developed a new type of human skin so tough and smooth it is virtually impenetrable. This is an exciting new discovery that means many good things such as immunity to sunburn, insect bites and even cancer. He works out of his villa-like mansion where his test subject, Vera (Elena Anaya) lures and possesses him with her youth and natural beauty. While it would appear she is some sort of prisoner, these two characters are bonded easily by thoughts of loss and loneliness. She experiences many emotional swings that become quite dramatic at times, as he becomes increasingly obsessed with his so-called 'project'.
This short series of set pieces are complemented by a frantic orchestral score, giving it a very theatrical, almost balletic feel. But what begins as an intriguing concept derails temporarily. In the second act we are suddenly introduced to many different characters as it is set six years earlier than the events depicted in the first. The audience will become alienated as a result, because for a while we have no idea what this has to do with Vera, but eventually it manages to come back and tie it up. When it reaches the end, you would've seen a 115-minute film where 75 minutes made sense. While the central plot has a conclusion, none of the subplots do. Some characters just randomly become part of the drama and then are never heard of again, even after they are dead.
The production design is very well done and quite unique, almost futuristic. There are solid performances from the two leads, adding quality to the overall presentation of the film. On the surface this film is about companionship and lust, but on a deeper level it is about beauty and image. Almodovar asks questions and raises concerns about what really is inner beauty and is it something that can be manifested or is it forever a part of us. When discussing these ideas in relation to this film, however, it almost seems a shame it wasn't handled better than it could have.
The Skin I Live In is an intriguing idea with engaging performances and presentation, but becomes soiled by supplementary relationships with scenes that didn't need to be there. The conclusion to this bizarre and twisted tale is satisfactory but by the time the audience has figured everything out it's not worth it.