Film Review: The Skin I Live In

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Following the death of his wife, surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) threw himself into his work and developed a new form of prosthetic skin, much tougher than regular human skin. Ledgard performs his experiments on Vera (Elena Anaya), a young woman held captive in his house, but as we learn more about her and why she’s there, the shocking truth behind Ledgard’s experiments are revealed.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to really identify what kind of film The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito in its mother tongue) is. Without a doubt, it has its roots in films such as Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, but it uses so many different elements from other films, that it only really keeps a company of one. At times it feels like a body horror film, whereas it could be argued that it’s a love story deep down. It’s also part mad scientist film, whilst there are undoubtedly surrealist elements mixed in – guy dressed as a tiger, anyone?

Similarly, the film explores a wide range of themes, including control within relationships, coping with grief, sexuality and gender. There’s an awful lot going on but it never becomes overwhelming; these themes are laid out in front of you but are never shoved in your face at the expense of the story. When Vera watches a wildlife documentary showing a cheetah toying with its prey, it’s a clear metaphor for Ledgard and Vera’s relationship. Similarly, Ledgard also enjoys ‘straightening’ bonsai trees in his spare time, another sign that he loves to manipulate nature’s design. Both simple but very effectively portrayed.

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As is the film’s aesthetic. It has a minimalist look about it that is stylishly shot, with almost every scene being perfectly framed. The cinematography is almost meticulous in its execution and the vibrant and clever use of colour sometimes make the whole thing feel like an art exhibition, which, again, appropriately fits the themes the film presents.

Narratively, The Skin I Live In is a very clever film. Early on we naturally make judgements about the characters and their actions, but through flashbacks we are shown what led them to be where they are in the present and this (will likely) drastically change our opinion of them. As such, it ends up being almost a completely different film to the one at the beginning. The ending is perhaps the film’s weakest moment as it is slightly predictable and a little underwhelming (it also should have ended about 20 seconds sooner), but it’s still a fitting denouement nonetheless.

Of director Pedro Almodovar’s other films, I have only seen Volver, but there seems to be something truly fantastical about his work. Both these films seem almost fairytale-esque, rooted in the impossible yet managing to feel grounded in reality. I can imagine his films not appealing to everyone, and The Skin I Live In isn’t for those who don’t completely buy into a film’s story. You definitely get out what you put into it. Fortunately, I was completely invested in it and am now eager to check out more of the director’s work.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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35 thoughts on “Film Review: The Skin I Live In

  1. Mark Walker says:

    This was an outstanding film that I had no qualms about giving top marks, Chris. I loved it and having seen quite a few of Almodovar’s film’s, this is probably my favourite. It was one of the best film’s of it’s year. Good review man.

  2. keith7198 says:

    Nice review Chris. Never have taken time to catch this one yet. Looks so darn freaky. A 4.5 from you may just change my mind.

  3. Frame Rates says:

    What a movie. Almadovar grew up in Franco-era Spain, and being a homosexual in that time was extremely problematic in the eyes of society. I love how Pedro A confronts ideas of sexuality in all of his movies, my favourite being All About My Mother. But this is a close second! I think I may avoid his new one though…doesn’t strike me as that exciting. Wicked review and good analysis!

    • Good knowledge! Thanks for that 🙂 Of his other films, All About My Mother is the one I’ve probably heard most about, so I definitely want to check it out. I agree with you about I’m So Excited though, doesn’t look the best to be honest.
      Thanks very much!

  4. filmhipster says:

    Wow, never heard of it….must get on it ASAP!

  5. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Chris. It was a very strange movie, but it was one that really got me involved as soon as it started, and as soon as the plot started to unravel in it’s crazy way.

  6. Never heard of it, and glad now, that I have! Sounds awesome. Nice to see Banderas in something atypical for him. Great review, Chris

  7. This was definitely an interesting film. Someone spoiled the ending for me prior, so now I always wonder how early I would’ve figured the big reveal out before it happened.

  8. Awesome. Thrilled that you liked it this much. Pedro is my favorite director and this one is his finest since Volver.

  9. Nick Powell says:

    I still haven’t see this, but good review. I wanted to point out something in the actual review to prove that I actually read it (I did), but wasn’t sure of what since I haven’t watched it myself lol. But I do mean it, good review lol.

  10. Ryan McNeil says:

    So here’s a fun experience: Try watching this film at 9am on a Saturday. Further, make that Saturday part of a film festival, making this the 21st movie you’ve watched in 9 days. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t sure if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing – and had to give my head a shake when it turned out that I WAS seeing what I thought I was seeing!

    I’ve been an admirer of Pedro for 11 years now, and few of his films have affected me the way this one did.

    Nice post mate.

    • Haha, I can’t imagine that was the most conducive atmosphere in which to watch this film. There are parts that are almost like a dream or hallucination anyway!

      I’m relatively new to Pedro’s work but I like what I’ve seen and I’m looking forward to checking out more of it.

      Thanks Ryan 🙂

  11. Tyson Carter says:

    No idea where my comment went. Anyway, went a little something like:

    Seen nothing but good things about this movie, I really need to see it. Nice write up Chris 🙂

  12. sati says:

    Such a fantastic movie. I’ve seen several from Almodovar but this one is hands down my favorite. The story was so dark and fascinating and I just adored the music in this one.

  13. I’m not the biggest fan of the Almodovar films I’ve seen (insofar as I like them, don’t LOVE them), but this one is pretty special. Horrifying in the most unique and beautiful ways imaginable. Well done!

  14. Dan says:

    This is probably my favourite Almodovar film although there are a few I still have to see. Saw him being interviewed ahead of his new comedy which looks like a nice change of pace from this one.

  15. This is a nice review and well rounded. I didn’t really dig this movie, but I did like how dark it was and how it turned out. Something about it didn’t click for me but I can see where some would really like it.

    the most amazing part for me was how it incorporated “karma” if you will, in so many of the characters’ stories. That was smartly accomplished.

    • Thanks man. I can totally get how this movie wouldn’t be for everyone, it’s pretty dark and downright strange in places. I hadn’t thought of the whole karma thing but that’s really interesting, I can definitely see that.

  16. Nostra says:

    This was the first Almodovar movie I’ve seen and based on it I am interested in checking out more of his work (have not come around to it yet though). Great review!

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