Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In, despite its soapy, pulpy surface sheen and audaciously entertaining sci-fi-psychosexual-thriller plot, is not a film to be taken lightly. It's a film that features two sexy leads (Antonio Banderas as Robert is like a nicely aged pinot noir, to put it in the cheesiest way possible; Elena Anaya's Vera is as hypnotic and stunning as she needs to be in this noirish, object-of-desire role). It has a twisty, grandiose story with a setting to match, in the form of a sprawling mansion outfitted with a medical research/surgery lab and an abundance of security cameras. It features a kidnapping, a murder, an involuntary surgery or two, and more than a few startling secrets. In other words, its rather easy to stay on the surface when there's so much going on there.
After my screening, I left the theatre (and Vancouver's The Vogue is a great place to see a movie like this, with the seats vibrating along with the sound system, and ornate wall carvings to see on all sides, if for some reason you can peel your eyes away from the screen) feeling the giddy high of having just seen a supremely entertaining film. Before I rushed off to my next film--and then another after that, and four more the following day, and so on--I more or less slipped The Skin I Live In into the "fun, bizarre, thoroughly good movie" category and proceeded to move on.
I saw a lot of good, and plenty of great movies during my run, but few have stuck the way Skin has. I have still seen the film only the once, and I can't help but come back to it in my mind, again and again, feeling like I missed...well, a lot. One of the only downsides of seeing so many worthwhile films at once is the lack of time they get to sit with you and unfurl themselves into your subconscious, allowing you to form a fully realized opinion of them. In a festival setting, you expect things to be clear-cut masterpieces right away, or you ditch them and start eyeing your schedule for the next potential game-changer. Many films get unfairly judged or overlooked altogether.
All of this is just a long-winded, apologetic way of saying that I have ultimately concluded The Skin I Live In to not only be a great film, but one of my favorites of the year--and something I could easily see growing even higher in my esteem upon rewatches. Almodovar has cleverly constructed an outlandish tale of power abuse, loss of control, and obsession, flirting with and examining real, heavy themes that focus on gender, sexuality, and more broadly the modern human mind--asking to what extent can we convince ourselves that a lie we're living is true? How morally wrong is it to do so?
The film is also beautifully scored, photographed, and acted. Banderas, in particular, shines by playing his mad-scientist billionaire completely straight, without a single hammy moment (okay, maybe that one scene where he brings out the "size-adjustment" tools...). While his motives are decidedly hard to understand, he always feels like a real man, in real pain; Skin never has black and white divisions. Everything is grey, in a dizzyingly confusing way. When the credits roll--after a sure to be oft-quoted final line--there is no sense of emotional satisfaction. This is perhaps the most brilliant, lingering thing about the movie. I'm not trying to be punny when I say Almodovar's latest genuinely gets under your skin, there's just no better way to put it. And I'm sure the film's title was not unintentionally reflective of this.