Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)

Spanish and Latin Cinema is an entity unto itself within the foreign cinema genre. The films largely deal with taboo topics few other countries would manage to explore (without looking seedy and grotesque) and Brits would normally just steer clear. There have been prostitutes, kidnaps, child abuse, homosexuality, dog fighting and oh so much sex. The sex in Spanish cinema is somewhere between explicit and pornographic and takes some getting used to when you're used to the sensibility of British and American cinema. But once you see a few, you get used to it and it becomes less about the sex and more about the plot going on around it.

The popularity of Spanish films is thanks, largely, to the man behind many of Spain's most recognised film masterpieces – Pedro Almodóvar. I'd say that Almodóvar is the Spielberg of the spanish-speaking world but he really isn't. He's as well respected (possibly even more so!) and well-known but his directing style is completely different. Almodóvar has favourite actors he continues to work with (the well-known Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as well as veteran Spanish actress Marisa Paredes) and manages to churn out masterpiece after masterpiece. I don't think the man has made a single dud. His films make plot lines that are totally bizarre and make no sense appear clear cut and beautiful. In All About My Mother (my favourite of his films) he not only managed to make Penelope Cruz an HIV positive pregnant nun – but made it seem totally normal. Other hits of his include Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her and Volver.

I was incredibly excited then to see that he had signed up one of his favourites, Antonio Banderas, to star in his latest work – The Skin I Live In. I was more than a little confused though by the vague plot that had been released to explain the film beforehand.

A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession.

Other plot summaries also included references to a wife who had been badly burned in an accident and a daughter who had been sexually assaulted. So why not just reveal a little more? Well the reason, I can tell you, that the plot is so elusive is simple - if you understood the plot, it would ruin the film. It's one of those films you have to just watch because what you discover cannot be told, it must be seen. The film is possibly one of Almodóvar's darkest, simply because it is much more psychological than his others - the majority of the horror is implied not shown - and for that reason left me a little shaken at the big reveal. But be warned - like all Spanish cinema, this is not one for the faint hearted. This is a dark and sinister film that will mess with your head long after you've left the cinema.

For those brave enough to dare to see it, I can tell you that it is certainly another masterpiece to add to Almodóvar‘s list. The film is beautifully executed as always, stunningly simplistic in its dialogue and action, the acting is flawless and like most Spanish films – completely intoxicating. I always relish the opportunity to see Antonio Banderas acting in his native tongue. There are no jokes here, just solid proof that the man is a brilliant actor, clearly wasted in Hollywood. This is also, I’m sure the first of many films starring the most recent addition to Almodovar‘s women – Elena Anaya.

If this is your first attempt into the world of Spanish cinema, I would advise caution and suggest starting with All About My Mother or Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down before seeing this one. If though, like me, you have seen and enjoyed many of the earlier films then this is a must see.

Spanish films have a tendency to grab you from the very beginning and keep you hooked long after the credits have finished rolling. This film will get under your imperfect human skin and stay there.

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