Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After 12 years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a further three things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig.
CANNES: Pedro Almodovar bites off a bit more than he can chew in his camp psychodrama of Frankenstein proportions, The Skin I Live In.
Ostensibly about a mad scientist and his magnificent obsession, the film explores notions of beauty, gender, entrapment and sexuality with typical visual flair but when all is said and done, the effect is skin deep.
The Spaniard is in hyper-parody mode with this story of the manufacture of a perfect creature whose epidermis can withstand all manner of cuts and abrasions, but Almodovar expends so much energy lampooning his own style that when he should be leading us down a rabbit hole, he ends up chasing his own tail.
The film reteams Antonio Banderas with his Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! director after 21 years. The former plays an aloof geneticist who flouts convention and all manner of ethical codes to construct a new type of skin, to commemorate the wife he lost to a blazing car wreck many years prior. The dastardly doctor's complex maze of motivations rage from retribution to desire, but very little of this is conveyed through Banderas' furrowed brows.
Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes provides even more frowny consternation (and way too much exposition) as the housekeeper-cum-mother-figure, who cleans up Dr Robert's mess, and helps him realise his creepy ambitions.
Jumpy timelines ('2012' / 'Eight years ago' / 'Back to present day') chart the progress of Robert's obsessive quest, and explain how the strange accomplice he keeps locked in an upstairs bedroom came to be such a willing guinea pig for his experiments (to reveal more would be to reveal major plot spoilers but suffice it to say, it’s one helluva case of Stockholm Syndrome).
The Skin I Live In is Almodovar’s own adaptation of Thierry Jonquet’s Tarantula, which I’ve not read, but quick précis suggests that the material might have been better realised in the hands of a more macabre director, like Lynch, Cronenberg or Haneke. The conceit requires considerable buy-in from the audience but Almodovar’s haphazard handling of the required elements merely calls attention to the wafer thin distinctions between a parody of a mediocre sex thriller and the real thing.
Does the fact that it bears the name Almodovar make it a better film? Not on your nelly. Had Alan Smithee been credited with this effort, it would go straight to DVD.