The Skin I Live In
Directed & Written by Pedro Almodóvar
Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet
Robert Ledgard - Antonio Banderas
Vera - Elena Anaya
Marilia - Marisa Paredes
Norma - Blanca Suarez
Vincete - Jan Cornet
Pedro Almodóvar’s sensual medical thriller The Skin I Live In opens with a young woman in a skintight, flesh-colored suit easing into a backbend. She’s on her own, with a sense of perfect self-control, until the scene is disrupted by the appearance of another, older woman along with a set of screens revealing the locked room the younger woman named Vera lives in. The older woman,
, is a servant to Dr Robert Ledgard, the master and creator of Vera. Marilia
In its first half, the story oscillates between the control that Robert assumes over Vera, a work of art that he created by sewing up impenetrable skin patches, and Vera’s rebellion to tear up the doctor’s mastery. Robert’s fastidiousness is illustrated in a series of closeups during his experiments. When examining inanimate samples under a microscope, he’s capable of unbreakable calm and authority. He expects the same sort of unconditional subordination from Vera and treats her as aloofly. Except that she’s very much alive and, at every opportunity, tries to prove it.
Every time Robert checks the screens to ensure that Vera remains intact, Vera gazes right back, not only at her master but also at the audience, as if to assert her aliveness. When keeping track of Vera’s whereabouts, Robert’s point-of-view shots rather betray his insecurities about his creation than reaffirm his command, whereas a displayed image of Vera staring into the camera menacingly looms before him. In other words, despite the apparent dominance that Robert has over their relationship, it’s in fact a nuanced tug-of-war that threatens to erupt at any time.
In its second half, after the tension melts into something entirely different and erodes Robert’s dominion, the film quickens pace and unravels a bandage of the truth, alternating, and partially overlapping, flashbacks where the seeds of the drama were sown. The overlaps, especially the part recollected by Vera, seem a directorial decision to provide rationale for Vera that, while she is not exactly innocent, her blunder pales in comparison with what Robert did.
Exploring the themes of sexuality and power, Almodóvar draws on meticulous experimental closeups, locked gazes, and scenes of strongly symbolic actions (e.g. Robert patches up the skin of an immobile Vera belted to the table, and later a ferocious Vera rips all her clothes to pieces). And the film’s theatrically structured and acted, which accentuates the dramatic closure. In brief, in The Skin I Live In, Almodóvar delivers yet another spine-chilling experience.