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Tuesday, January 10, 2012


(Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya)

Beautiful cinematic experience but not a film for the faint-hearted, (Review by Raeesa Abdul-Karrim)

Every so often as an audience member you are treated to a visual spectacle that renders you speechless, be it because you are beyond amazed or completely disgusted but you quickly snap out of it and your thoughts gush out into animated speech. However, what do you do when you are consumed with both of those conflicting emotions? Trust me, the speechlessness lasts a great deal longer and makes review writing a little more difficult, especially because you cannot reveal anything that hasn’t been said already.

Internationally successful Spanish film-maker Pedro Almodóvar is responsible for this dilemma with his latest creation The Skin I Live In. It was even reported that following the New York Film Festival screening of the film, Almodóvar was met with a cinema full of silent journalists.

Based on the book Tarantula by French novelist Thierry Jonquet, The Skin I Live In is a story of blood-ties, obsession, murder and medical research and practice gone awry. Dr Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), an extremely successful plastic surgeon in Toledo, Spain, is working on creating indestructible skin using methods of transgenesis. His obsession of creating indestructible skin began after his wife was severely burnt in a car accident.

Ledgard’s work and research take place in his secluded palatial home which has its own laboratory and operating theatre. His loyal housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes) helps him with his only patient Vera (Elena Anaya). Vera is always dressed in a skin-coloured stocking-like suit and is constantly watched on surveillance cameras by Marilia and Ledgard. Eventually, he succeeds in creating the skin and that’s when the film really begins to unravel.

Almodóvar is renowned for his style of film-making, which pushes the audiences out of their comfort zone. In The Skin I Live In, he challenges them to engage with issues that are disturbing, unnatural, inhumane yet completely believable. It really is a beautiful cinematic experience.

The immaculate beauty of Ledgard’s home luxuriously draped with Renaissance artwork and pristine surfaces holds such evil within it but serves as a wonderful metaphor of skin and what lies beneath that skin. There are many such subtexts within the film that draw you in and lead you through a convoluted moral labyrinth. In a particularly noteworthy scene, Ledgard walks into his bedroom and there appears to be a larger than life painting of the back of a woman with flawless skin.

Antonio Banderas plays Dr Robert Ledgard with elegance. He is dashing and debonair, yet cold, calculating and deeply disturbed. His actions may seem obsessive and lacking moral fibre but you empathise with him at first, because he is surviving a tragedy. It was also refreshing to hear him speaking only in his native Spanish tongue. He truly excels in this film.

Actress Elena Anaya is exquisitely beautiful and her portrayal of Vera is moving. The film mainly views her in a voyeuristic light which just emphasises her beauty. She doesn’t have much dialogue but her nuances really give life to her character.

The music of the film has a wonderful haunting quality that ties in well with the strange and horrific plot. An elderly woman walked out the cinema and was bawling her eyes out because it was so unsettling. Almodóvar describes The Skin I Live In as "a horror story without screams or frights" and it is certainly not a film for the faint-hearted.

The Skin I Live In releases on January 20 at Ster Kinekor Cinema Nouveau countrywide (in KZN at Gateway) – Raeesa Abdul-Karrim