I went to see Pedro Almodovar’s new film The Skin I Live In yesterday. Being an admirer of Almodovar’s work, although admittedly not being a huge fan of any of his films, I was in two minds about whether I should go and see this or just wait for it to come to DVD. Well hey, it’s only £3.50 to see a film at my local indy on a Wendnesday, so I decided to chance it. My gamble paid off, as this was one of the most stunning and audacious new films I’ve seen in recent years.
There are a couple of problems I have with the film, which I will get to in a minute, and I’m hoping other MUBI users will be able to help me with these. For now, however, suffice it to say that I thought this was Almodovar’s most impressive and most coherent film to date. I’ll explain why.
I’ve seen a good number of Almodovar’s films and have a great admiration for Women on the Verge, All About My Mother, and Bad Education (which I saw as an historically politicized progression of the two aforementioned films) and see these films as indicative of Almodovar’s true aesthetic . I couldn’t enjoy Live Flesh or Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, but I could still see that they were works of a rare and unique talent. I thought Volver was a bit of a gem, but the carefully paced, restrained narrative seemed like a betrayal of Almodovar’s signature aesthetic.
Now, The Skin I Live In is also a great deal more restrained than what I would consider to be the best of Almodovar’s previous work. However, I believe there is a reason for this. I don’t want to give too much away in case there is anyone reading this who’s yet to see it (so please forgive me for any vagueness), but most people who are aware of the film will know that it has something to do with cosmetic surgery. Why is this important? Well, the look of the film is extremely polished and the editing is very precise – something that we’re perhaps not used to from Almodovar. The colour scheme is also slightly more muted than with previous films – although still ravishing and spectacular. So the reason for this seems clear enough. Almodovar wanted to the directing style to reflect the vocational theme of the film. The story simply wouldn’t have been well served by the controlled chaos of Mother and Women.
This is one of the reasons why I believe this to be Almodovar’s most accessible film to date. However, I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting point for those unfamiliar with Almodovar. The Skin I Live In does a wonderful job of distilling the themes that run through Almodovar’s previous films with a poignancy and clinical precision that has not been attempted before. But in order to best appreciate just how clever Almodovar has been here, one would have to have at least seen Mother and Women to gain a better understanding of where he’s coming from as an auteur.
Further to this, the film works extremely well as a thriller – so credit should be given for the technical advancements of a director who has handled similar elements in an unconvincing manner in the past. Surely he can’t be far from entering the great pantheon of master director’s now?
But now to the problems I had with the film.
In many ways I thought this was somewhat less original that much of his previous work and kind of derivative of a lot of Asian “extreme” cinema I’ve seen. The one film that came to mind was Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy (another one was David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers , although surely Cronenberg did much to influence the “extreme” cinema of Asia). Now, I like Oldboy and I’m usually very sceptical of anything I perceive to be derivative (which is why I couldn’t like Black Swan). But I was reminded of Von Trier’s Antichrist and how the influence of contemporary Asian horror was felt in that film, yet Von Trier was clever enough to let it remain an influence and play with the conventions of the sub-genre. I think Almodovar does a similar thing here, and with arguably less pretension, but I’d be interested to hear from other MUBI users who’ve seen The Skin I Live In if they know of any other Asian horror/thrillers that Almodovar may have borrowed a bit too heavily from.
My other problem was the ending – and I would urge anyone who’d like to comment on this to add a spoiler warning to their post. Without going into too much detail I can say that I’m in two minds about it. One one hand I think it might have been a bit of a cop-out that betrayed the most interesting aspect of the film – that is, the emotional and psychological progression in the captive-captor relationship. On the other hand, I think it might be a brilliantly measured ending, wholly consistent with the thematic character of Almodovar’s previous work, and a end-note of reconciliation with the director’s true aesthetic.
So what did people think? It’s had mixed reviews, but I think I strong case could be made for considering this Almodovar’s best film yet.
I haven’t been able to see this, but hopefully it’ll get to Hawai’i (although if it does, I expect it will be sometime early next year). :(
it hasn’t opened in the U.S. yet. i’m excited to see it too :)
What a bizarre movie. Only Pedro could concoct something like this.
Not a bad film but like his last two films, slightly underwhelming.
Ha ha. Not sure how can anyone can refer to a film like this as being “underwhelming”. Although I can see how fans of his previous work might not like it, seeing as it’s a bit of a departure and somewhat more sanitised – even if it is arguably more audacious. Not sure that it would lend itself to repeated viewings as well as All About My Mother or Women on the Verge, though.
I’ll see this if it comes out in local cinemas. I live around Boston so odds are it will. I was uncertain because of the very mixed reviews, but obviously I’m a huge fan of Almodovar’s.
Not opening here until 11/11.
I kind of wish I’d checked the US opening dates before I started this thread, as this is a difficult film to talk about without including spoilers. Somewhat ironically, I think this a film that might appeal more to non-Almodovarian’s – although the more Almodovar films one has seen (and not necessarily liked), the better placed one will be to appreciate the sublime cunning of this film.
I liked the movie for some of the reasons you mentioned; it’s clear that his old thematic concerns have made the jump over into this genre with him. I also like your point about the “look” of the film because important due to the cosmetic surgery theme. That’ an interesting idea, and I think one might be able to to talk about the muted color palate, etc. in relation to this, but I think there could have been a lot more exploration to this. For example, considering strongly the look of horror/thriller films and contrasting it or blending it with that signature Almodovar look.
Ultimately, that’s my problem with the movie, although I did like it. Almodovar should be praised for organically fitting his pet themes into a horror film, but the aesthetics and sensibility of the genre sort of mutes his really distinctive personality. It’s unmistakably his film, but his usual flare and emotional touch don’t survive the transplant into the horror realm.
I liked the ending if you mean the very last scene. What happened before I could take or leave, but I’m glad it afford him his one change to get sentimental.
I’m getting the impression that Matt lives on the moon.
Matt – So is it true, is it made of cheese?
“although the more Almodovar films one has seen (and not necessarily liked), the better placed one will be to appreciate the sublime cunning of this film.”
I agree. By the end of the film, you can’t help but kick yourself for not seeing it coming. The whole thing, as convoluted and ridiculous as it is, is pure Almadovar (in the best sense). I’m just such a huge fan of Talk to Her, Bad Education, and All About My Mother that I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed with The Skin I Live In. Still, it was entertaining and I have to say that Banderas was pretty good (I’m not usually a fan of his).
I’m not at all surprised at the lukewarm reception this film has had amongst fans of Almodovar’s most characteristic work. This hearkens back to the point I made about Skin being a slight betrayal of the directors true aesthetic.
I think Mother and Women (at least) are probably superior to Skin but, I have to say, I enjoyed this new film a good deal more than either of them.
Perhaps this is has something to do with me not being much of an Almodovar fanboy. Anyway, I still think this film works, and while I agree that the whole thing is ridiculous (and in the best kind of way) I would reject claims of convolution – I thought the narrative was extremely tight.
Finally got to see it.
After the first half hour and the part with Zeca I was thinking “Ugh”. This is over the top even for Almodovar.
(Mild spoilers — I won’t go into specifics but I will mention the general direction of the ending)
But in the second half when you find out what’s really going on behind the plot, it gets really interesting. I liked the ending, it seemed like a departure from Almodovar’s usual habits, because whereas most Almodovar films end with things crystallizing in the realm of the insane, this film ended with a return to the sane. A reclaiming of identity.
I don’t think it did get away from the captor/captive relationship, because there was that theme the whole time of trying to grasp onto that part on the inside which was uniquely his.
I wouldn’t place it in the top tier of Almodovar’s work, because the part with the tiger at the beginning was just so over the top ridiculous, but it is a strong film overall.
This just showed up at a local theater. I haven’t read the thread, but for those of you who sort of know my tastes, I’m wondering if you would recommend the film. I didn’t care for this last film. Volver was entertaining, but nothing incredibly interesting, either.
I don’t think you’d like it.
Think more in terms of Bad Education than Broken Embraces or Volver.
Though you might like All About My Mother or Flower of My Secret.
I haven’t seen Bad Education, but I really liked Talk to Her. I can barely remember All About My Mother, but I’m pretty sure I liked it more than Broken Embraces. I thought Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down was interesting, too. Haven’t seen Flower of My Secret.
Try Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.
Oops, I’m pretty sure I saw that one, too. (I thought it was interesting, from what I remember.)
This was my 4th Almodovar after Live Flesh, Volver, and Talk to Her and he hasn’t let me down yet. I too thought the beginning was kinda over the top and kinda ridiculous and had no idea where it was going to go. I was in a theater at like 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday full of senior citizens too so at times I was cringing FOR them, but the 2nd half of the film really picks up the for lack of a better word, “slack” in a major way. When the film starts moving, it really does move. I was quite moved by the end.
I oinly want to see this because he has taken cues from Eyes Without A Face.
I could care less about Almodovar generally
This may seem Irrelevant, but did anyone else think it was weird that Tigre spoke Portuguese and there was all of those Brazilian references. I have an unnatural obsession with all things Brazilian so that is probably why I found it so weird, but still.. lol
For me The Face of Another felt like it dealt with the question of identity when removed from the body in a more interesting way. Unlike Almodovar’s other films, I really struggled with The Skin I Live in. It felt like there was a complete lack of compassion for his characters and instead of presenting his outsiders from inside their niche, it was completely sanitised and distanced. I get the surgical coldness, but for me it wasn’t so much a horror film as it was simply a horrible one.
I think the reason his melodrama is usually effective is the warmth and humour, but here (and I know some people found it hilarious) it seemed like he was going through the motions and simply employing devices to create reactions.
So much fun!
Life is a genderless bitch.
anyone want to discuss this? it’s on dvd here now. saw it yesterday and still not sure how i feel about the ending. liked the film as a whole quite a bit more on reflection than i did while watching it, flashbacks of all about my mother and bad education notwithstanding. i’d be interested in some female opinions especially
“liked the film as a whole quite a bit more on reflection than i did while watching it”
Yeah, that was my experience with it as well.
Finally got around to watching this. It’s an interesting film to be sure. There were many things I liked about it, but like The Master, it seemed to aspire more than it actually accomplished.
I liked the subdued tone and colours and the little symbolism there that it alluded to. That it was divided up into essentially two parts was well done and the ending was restrained and appropriately symbolic. In fact, there’s a whole lot of on-the-nose symbolism and that’s kind of my problem with it. With all of its quasi-restraint there was still all of these little “clever” nods that took me out of the film.
In addition, there were character inconsistencies (this mainly refers to Banderas’ character – though he played the role very well) and the “resolution” seemed rushed. This was a film that had the opposite problem of most films…it could’ve been longer. I wanted to see more of the wife, more of Vincente in his normal life, more of the housekeeper, and less of her ‘tiger son.’ The whole plot device of the tiger son was just stupid. It reminded me of Family Guy where you just throw in some random “absurd” conflict that furthers the plot. I mean there could’ve been more thought thrown into that. And the daughter…could’ve been a little more focus on her as well – she felt like more of a plot device.
All in all, just a bunch of small problems that added up. Not a horrible film but certainly not a great one and definitely not Almodovar’s best. Pretty good acting all around though – too bad they didn’t have much to work with.
I really liked it. I was annoyed by “tiger son”. Too over the top even for Pedro and of course the characer has to try to rape somebody seconds after being introduced. But that character aside, I really liked it.
It reminded me of Bad Education. Just as that film used a Noir genre complete with creative use of wipes to deal with themes of the spoiling of youth, this film uses horror (particularly Cronenberg horror) to show the spoiling of identity. The Cronenberg sheen and antiseptic look about the film is mirrored in the face mask ala Eyes without a Face, but throughout we are seeing the transformation of the hero. This hero essentially goes through the pain that he inficted on another and comes out of it transformed. Irony abounds.
The ending is actually what sells me on the film. It’s an odd sort of Pedro happy ending with an ironic twist. Now that he has been turned into a woman, he can actually be with the lesbian that he lusted after. I’d like to see the film again because it seemed to be that the scene where he tries to pick up the lesbian mirrors the final shot very precisely.