The Skin I live in – Skin Deep

This is my review of The Skin I Live In [DVD] [2011].

Almodovar is so celebrated as a film director that one expects any criticism to be construed by “connoisseurs” of his art as a sign of one’s own lack of sensibility.

I can live with a ludicrous plot and tolerate a certain level of sex and violence for a good reason, but I want something more as well. In this case, a criminally insane surgeon, grief-stricken by the loss of his wife in a car which caught alight, is bent on developing a skin immune to burning. He uses as a guinea pig a beautiful young woman called Vera who is a prisoner in his house, continuously observed via camera on vast screens. How and why does she resemble so much his dead wife? Is the surgeon falling in love with his own creation, thus making himself too vulnerable? So far so good, but the plot proceeds in jerky steps and unrealistic scenes so that I began to lose interest. At one point, the maid has to explain to Vera what is going on, a crude device for relieving the audience of its growing perplexity.

It is true that scenes are often visually very striking. With infinite care, Almodovar has paid attention to every detail of a shot. In particular, he displays his love of fabrics, colours, textures and costumes. The arrival of the maid’s violent son, dressed as a tiger, provides a cue to indulge this love. This also provides an example of the bizarre, sinister, no holds barred physicality beloved by Almodovar. Fabrics also give rise to striking images – the dummies in the shop window of a fashion store – where we encounter Vicente, another key character in Almodovar`s crazy weaving of violent sexual fantasies with rational explanations.

Eventually the strands of the plot twine together to achieve an ending which reviewers have described as a twist, although it seemed to me quite predictable.

Even admirers of Almodovar admit this film is “tosh” but love it for the visual effects. Doesn’t a film need to be more than a beautifully embroidered duvet cover in an unsettling (when you know the facts) sex scene, the guzzling of scraps of torn dresses in a hoover nozzle, the curves of a slender body in a yoga pose, or a startling red gown in a shop window?

“A Clockwork Orange”, although withdrawn by Kubrick himself for its “gratuitous violence” shows by comparison how a bizarre and visually striking tale can also have a coherent plot and a thought-provoking message.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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