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NYFF 2011. Pedro Almodóvar's "The Skin I Live In"

"Almodóvar's most formally complex, bravura film since All About My Mother (1999)."

"The Skin I Live In is Almodóvar's most formally complex, bravura film since All About My Mother (1999)," argues Amy Taubin in Artforum. "It effortlessly synthesizes the mad-scientist horror flick; a contemporary resetting of a nineteenth-century grand opera narrative (motored by the desire for revenge and filled with dark family secrets); and the most perverse strain of the Hollywood 'Woman's Picture,' where the heroines are wrongly imprisoned in insane asylums or hospitals and treated as sadistically as lab rats. That it is a disturbing film goes without saying, but its affect is strikingly narcotic throughout, its moments of anguish tempered by the Carnivalesque…. The Skin I Live In is an exhilarating treatise on identity in which the self transcends the fragile, sullied flesh, and, as always in Almodóvar, the law of desire trumps sexual difference."

Karina Longworth in the Voice: "A postmodern homage to Hitchcock that raises the Master of Suspense's implicit sexual obsessions to the textual level, its moral compass is totally, thrillingly whacked, as Almodóvar dispenses with traditional notions of good versus evil, perpetrators and victims. Based on Thierry Jonquet's novel Tarantula, Almodóvar's 18th feature stars Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who develops a revolutionary new human skin that ultimately plays a role in the doctor's diabolical plot to avenge the deaths of his wife and daughter. The link between Dr Ledgard's invention and that payback is Vera (Elena Anaya), a beautiful patient whom the doctor keeps in a two-way-mirror-equipped room in the palatial home he shares with his longtime maid (Marisa Paredes). It's probably not much of a surprise that no member of this triangle is exactly who they seem to be, but to explain more about Skin's relationships would spoil much of the pleasure in this ever-unfurling, ultimately infuriating web of a film."

"As a critic friend commented to me after a screening, it seems the work of a very young, hungry, and pissed-off filmmaker," writes Glenn Kenny at MSN Movies. "Hard to believe that Almodóvar is now over 60." Many note that this is the first time Almodóvar and Banderas have worked together since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) and Glenn notes that "not only does Banderas step back into Almodóvar World without seeming to have broken his stride in the least, his portrayal of a complex and in many ways profoundly unsympathetic character is one of the boldest and best performances he's essayed in years." And Anaya? "This should be a star-making performance."

Jim Emerson's caught this "shimmering horror-comedy-melodrama quilted together from scraps of Georges Franju's 1960 Eyes Without a Face, André de Toth's 1953 House of Wax (without the one-eyed 3D) and Douglas Sirk's 1959 Imitation of Life" in Vancouver and notes that it "begins in the middle, skips back to fill in a few mysteries, and then wends its labyrinthine way to an absurdly touching and tentative conclusion."

"The flashback structure doesn't fulfill the film's opening so much as yank the bottom out from it," writes David Bordwell. "Perverted story action summons up perverse narration." He also points us to Jean Oppenheimer story on the making of the film in American Cinematographer.

More from Mark Asch (L), David Denby (New Yorker), David Edelstein (New York), Ed Gonzalez (Slant, 2.5/4), Benjamin Mercer (L), Elise Nakhnikian (House Next Door) and Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out New York, 3/5). Earlier: Reviews from Cannes and the UK.

In the New York Times, Nicolas Rapold presents a slide show, "a few examples of what might be called creative romantic problem solving from the annals of extreme storytelling."

Lawrence Osborne talks with Almodóvar for the Daily Beast, David Fear with Banderas for Time Out New York.

Updates, 10/15: "There are times in The Skin I Live In when it feels as if the whole thing will fly into pieces, as complication is piled onto complication, and new characters and intrigues are introduced amid horror, melodrama and slapstick," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, but "Mr Almodóvar's control remains virtuosic and the film hangs together completely, secured by Vera and Ledgard and a relationship that's a Pandora's box from which identity, gender, sex and desire spring."

"What's distinctive about The Skin I Live In," writes Alison Willmore for Movieline, "is how reserved it is in terms of filmmaking choices. Aside from his usual bold color schemes, Almodóvar has managed a remarkably restrained telling of what's in essence a sci-fi psychosexual melodrama set in the very near future of 2012 Toledo. He's much quoted as describing the film as 'a horror story without screams or frights,' and he receives assistance in that regard with straight, unwinking performances from Banderas, Anaya and Marisa Paredes as the housekeeper Marilia."

At the AV Club, Noel Murray finds that "by the end of The Skin I Live In, Almodóvar has reverted too easily to his stock melodrama mode, with glossy surfaces covering up the characters' deep hurt and loss. Had Almodóvar embraced the genre more, and changed his style to suit a story in which human beings get hacked up and transformed, he might've naturally found his way into a more potent, satisfying narrative, rather than one that dawdles and dead-ends."

Time's Richard Corliss: "Content to tell its time-shifting story without soaring above its source, The Skin I Live In is only middling Pedro — which is to say, better than 78% of other people's films. But it has gleaming surfaces hiding the darkest habits and, in Anaya's Vera, a screen beauty who reveals the private pain at her essence."

Dana Stevens: "Alberto Iglesias's magnificent score pulses with obscure menace, Jean-Paul Gaultier's costumes (designed in collaboration with Paco Delgado) are deliciously perverse, and Antxon Gomez's production design is pure postmodern eye candy — if Almodóvar hadn't become a filmmaker, he could've been a hell of an interior decorator. But the story of a plastic-surgeon-turned-mad-scientist unfolds with a clinical chill we're unaccustomed to feeling in this director's films. The Skin I Live In is a math problem, not a poem."

Also in Slate, June Thomas counts and charts recurring motifs in the Almodóvar filmography and then ranks the bunch: "Items 1 through 5 are outrageous masterpieces, Items 6 through 8 are disturbing and brilliant, Items 9 through 11 are odd and interesting, and Items 12 through 16 are flawed and creepy. Items 17 and 18 are for completists, historians, or stoned over-50s only."

Spoiler alert. If you've already seen Skin, you'll want to read the discussion at Film Quarterly's site between editor Rob White and columnist Paul Julian Smith and/or read Michael Koresky's review at Reverse Shot.

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