The Skin I Live In (2011)

Pedro Almodóvar may be gay, but that doesn’t stop him loving women. The Spanish director has built a successful career out of making films about the fairer sex, positioning them at the centre of zany, melodramatic storylines in movies that are as outrageous as they are opulent. The Skin I Live In is no different.

Antonio Banderas plays Robert Ledgard, an accomplished surgeon who’s escaping his troubled past by experimenting on cultivating a tougher kind of skin. Helping him in this venture is the mysterious Vera (Elena Anaya), who Ledgard’s locked in his home, and is using as a guinea pig for his research.

On the surface, Skin… could be mistaken for lazy. After all, many of Almodóvar’s favourite elements are all present and correct – rape, music, violence, sly humour, vivid colours. Do a little digging, though, and it’s clear that the comparisons only run skin deep. Those elements are Almodóvar’s calling cards, and par for the course. With Skin…, the director constructs an involving drama layer by layer, gradually building to the panting, screaming melodrama you expect of him.

Amid the histrionics is a genuinely unsettling treaty on revenge, gender and grief. Almodóvar’s always nudged the boundaries of gender representation, and here he snaps the restraints entirely. The film’s central nuclear bomb of a twist will divide audiences, but Almodóvar rewards the faithful with fertile, febrile material. He also does for Banderas what he did for Penelope Cruz with Volver, gifting him a fascinating role in his native Spanish. Inscrutable, cruel and obsessive, Banderas hasn’t been this ‘on’ in ages.

Skin… is never easy, and its subject matter is tricky at best, almost too extreme at worst. But it’s never anything less than 100% involving – a fearless stab at seriously brain-busting storytelling. 3/5