October 14, 2011 at 9:54 am #41166
Pedro Almodovar’s newest film, not in the FL race based on Spain choosing a different film (which has as of now no plans for a US release) and the Academy’s idiotic one-film-per-country selection process, gets a rave review in the NYTimes:
A Beautiful Prisoner Lost in Almodóvar’s Labyrinth
By MANOHLA DARGIS
There’s an early decisive moment in Pedro Almodóvar’s exhilarating film “The Skin I Live In,” when Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon and madman played with soul weariness by Antonio Banderas, gazes at the image of a woman on the wall of his bedroom. She’s bigger than life, this woman, and more beautiful. He calls her Vera (Elena Anaya), and she’s stretched out in the classic recumbent pose of the odalisque: that exotic Turkish harem dweller and Orientalist fantasy painted by the likes of Goya, Ingres and Manet, and given opulent new life and reverberant meaning by Mr. Almodóvar, a master of his art.
In paintings of odalisques, the often naked women lie across the image like unwrapped gifts, exquisitely available to the men who paint them and to the patrons who value such female voluptuaries. There’s something different about Vera, though it’s initially difficult to pinpoint what. Ledgard lives in a mansion brightened with paintings of big nudes and blooms, and when you first see him looking at Vera, it’s as if he were viewing another canvas or a photo, or peering into a window. Yet this is no ordinary image; rather, it’s a surveillance video, and Vera has just tried to kill herself. Ledgard won’t stand for that and rushes in to save her, patching up a body that’s the centerpiece in an intoxicating, lush mystery.
There are several genres nimbly folded into “The Skin I Live In,” which might also be described as an existential mystery, a melodramatic thriller, a medical horror film or just a polymorphous extravaganza. In other words, it’s an Almodóvar movie with all the attendant gifts that implies: lapidary technique, calculated perversity, intelligent wit. There’s also beauty and spectacle, of course, especially as embodied by Vera, who usually wears a body stocking with gloves and booties, and knows exactly what she looks like. Watch how she watches Ledgard watching her, a relay of looks that evokes John Berger’s observation: “Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Were we born this way or made? Mr. Almodóvar has his ideas, which he playfully explores with each labyrinthine turn.
The story is impossible — and weird, dark, funny and fractured, even jagged. It opens on a cityscape and the dateline “Toledo 2012” (as in Spain, not Ohio), the first indication that we’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s a shivery intimation of a futureworld, but it’s followed by a nod to “Citizen Kane” as the camera glides past a gate and into an isolated mansion. There Vera lives in a bright, locked room with a Spartan-modernist ambience, where she does little else except watch nature TV, practice yoga, scribble on the walls and create little busts inspired by the biomorphic forms of Louise Bourgeois. Ledgard calls her his patient, though she would rightly call herself his prisoner, as well as the object of his obsession.
How Vera got in that room and why are only two of the many mysteries in “The Skin I Live In.” Mr. Almodóvar seeds the narrative with assorted teasing clues, quickly draping a shadow across half a face, for instance, a bifurcation that suggests both a divided self and a yin-yang symbol. Mostly, he plunges you straight into a story that moves, restlessly, at times imperceptibly, between the present and past. As in “Vertigo” (another of this film’s touchstones), the past and present exist in a loop, at least for a man obsessed. Eventually, the galvanizing points on that time continuum come into focus, including an accident that badly burned Ledgard’s wife, prompting his search for a new type of skin.
It takes time to get a handle on the story (and even then, your grip may not be secure), though it’s instantly clear that something is jumping beneath the surface here, threatening to burst forth. Vera’s plight and the temporal shifts help create an air of unease and barely controlled chaos, an unsettling vibe that becomes spooky when Ledgard puts on a white lab coat and begins doing strange things with blood. Mr. Almodóvar doesn’t paint the screen red, at least not right away. Instead he daubs it on, the crimson easing in by way of the curtains Ledgard lectures in front of and in the droplets he perfectly places on glass plates. Later the blood will splash across a white bed in a frenzy of violence, an Abstract Expressionist splatter.
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. “You’re insane!” a colleague tells Ledgard, who doesn’t look terribly surprised by the news. Later, a rapist, Zeca (Roberto Álamo), in a tiger suit rings the doorbell, and one fateful night Ledgard’s daughter, Norma (Blanca Suarez), meets a young man, Vicente (Jan Cornet). Despite all these moving, spinning parts, 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.
Mr. Banderas and Ms. Anaya are excellent, though neither has been directed to seduce like some of the director’s past memorable characters. (A spikily human, funny Marisa Paredes, as Ledgard’s fanatically loyal housekeeper, Marilia, supplies plenty of warmth.) For good story reasons, Vera is largely opaque, while Ledgard remains at arm’s length: She is a question that he’s asked but at first can’t answer.
There’s a vital toughness, in particular, to Mr. Banderas, as this likable if often misused actor goes dark without compromising his character with softness or light. It’s a gutsy turn, and while your eyes are often, reasonably, on Ms. Anaya, it’s a pleasure to experience a performance from Mr. Banderas that peels away his persona and burrows under the skin.
“The Skin I Live In” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). Murder, rape, adult language and nudityOctober 14, 2011 at 10:03 am #41168
The LA Times review – from a new critic unknown to me – is not quite as strong, but solid.
I wonder if this shouldn’t be considered an original screenplay contender – not a leading one, but in the mix.
By Sheri Linden, Special to the Los Angeles TImes
October 14, 2011
The plot of Pedro Almodóvar’s new feature, based on Thierry Jonquet’s taut suspense novel “Mygale,” pivots on an act of cruelty both barbarous and scientifically refined. The action spinning out from this crime involves a series of rapes, actual and imagined, and suicide attempts, successful and not. But “The Skin I Live In” is no gloomfest, and not merely because most of the grisly bits take place off-screen.
With his expected flair, the Spanish filmmaker has concocted a heady blend of beauty and repulsion, Antonio Banderas inspiring the requisite loathing as the story’s debonair mad genius.
If theory ultimately outstrips drama in this semi-serious inquest into identity, gender and love, the filmmaking is often thrilling. The homey gazpacho blender of Almodóvar’s comic “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” has given way to the sci-fi sterility of a centrifuge, and he achieves a far more dynamic synthesis of concept and kicks than in his previous film, the labored “Broken Embraces.”
In his first work with the director in 20 years, Banderas plays plastic surgeon and high-functioning opium smoker Robert Ledgard. His House Beautiful compound in Toledo, Spain, bearing the deceptively lyrical name El Cigarral (the Orchard), contains a fully equipped medical clinic — the better to conduct experiments that cross bioethical lines. Specifically, Robert has been perfecting an artificial skin, his motivation the terrible burns that his wife, now deceased, suffered in an accident.
Robert’s first human subject is Vera (the exquisite Elena Anaya, shot to look flawless), a prisoner at El Cigarral who hasn’t succumbed to Stockholm syndrome. She practices yoga in her windowless room, dressed in a beige body stocking like a superhero biding her time. Robert watches her on a wall-size video surveillance screen, another piece of oversize art in his well-appointed home. The frame-within-the-frame zoom images of her are among the film’s most striking.
In a sly way, the movie is about the birth of an artist, the work of Louise Bourgeois and Alice Munro informing and provoking Vera’s sculptures, eyeliner-pencil graffiti and, best of all, her violent deconstruction of pretty dresses. A ballet of fabric, scissors and a state-of-the-art vacuum cleaner, set to a frenzy of strings, is a potent and playful scene using one of the strongest sections of Alberto Iglesias’ exhilarating score.
A time-tested perversity of the story is that Banderas’ ultra-possessed Robert is an artist too, a Dr. Frankenstein stitching together an involuntary costume of skin for his victim. Blood cells bloom like flowers of evil under his microscope lens, and he uses revenge on behalf of his mentally ill daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez), as an excuse to set in motion his scientific dream.
The action reels back six years to reveal a fateful encounter between Norma and Vicente (a terrific performance by Jan Cornet), who has a talent for window design (more clothes!) and a youthful lack of focus. In a benign version of Robert’s surveillance screen, Vicente’s mother (Susi Sánchez) watches him through a wall cutout in her boutique.
Though Almodóvar has retained the creep factor of his source material, he hasn’t fully embraced its darkness. The movie ends where another Almodóvar piece might begin, with a family reunion at once strange, matter-of-fact and hopeful. The family angle, especially an emphasis on the maternal, is one key way the book has been Almodóvar-ized.
Along those lines, the character of Robert’s faithful housekeeper takes on greater importance. Marilia (Marisa Paredes) endures an unwanted visit from her criminal son, Zeca (Roberto Álamo). Besides injecting a too-assertive variation on the skin/clothing theme — he’s badly scarred and wearing a silly tiger costume for Carnival — he disrupts the self-contained household and kicks the story toward its climax.
Later, when Marilia gathers up bloodstained sheets, death and childbirth fuse into one jolting image. But the secret she spills feels more like a melodramatic joke than a drama-shaping revelation.
Cinematographer José Luis Alcaine employs a more subdued palette than is usual for Almodóvar. Even so, the hues that punctuate the canvas, like the red of those sheets, have the intensity of a Fauve fever dream.
There’s plenty to savor in this film — not least a dusky-voiced performance by singer Concha Buika. But whether you’re smiling or shuddering, this is finally a movie of ideas. Those ideas, disturbing and provocative, are translated into a number of unforgettable visuals, even as the drama that propels them comes to life only intermittently and with a wink.October 14, 2011 at 10:36 am #41169
^It’s not an original screenplay, it’s based off of Thierry Jonquet’s novel ‘Mygale’, which of course means no, it won’t be in contention. As for adapted screenplay, I still doubt it.October 14, 2011 at 10:46 am #41170
Thanks for catching that Tye-grr – I didn’t double check, Almodovar otherwise has mainly or always had original screenplaysOctober 14, 2011 at 3:49 pm #41171
^It’s not an original screenplay, it’s based off of Thierry Jonquet’s novel ‘Mygale’, which of course means no, it won’t be in contention. As for adapted screenplay, I still doubt it.
You dont feel the Academy voters will go for this screenplay adaptation Tye?
Big fan of Elena Anaya however.
Personally, I may pass on this film and perhaps catch it on DVD down the road.October 14, 2011 at 5:28 pm #41172
I absolutely LOVE Almodovar, but I just don’t see the Academy going for this adaptation with Oscar catnip like ‘War Horse’, ‘The Descendants’, ‘Moneyball’, and maybe even ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ in contention, among others. It seems too “out there” for their tastes.October 14, 2011 at 5:43 pm #41173
It’s best (only) chance would be so many possibilities that a film that starts off with strong European writer support (#1s) gets a head start – but I agree it’s unlikely, even though some of the key reviews are quite good.
I’m curious if in a tough field Sony Classics pushes Antonio Banderas – if somehow they might accept this as a comedy, the GGs might easily give him a lead actor nomination in that category.October 14, 2011 at 8:14 pm #41174
I absolutely LOVE Almodovar, but I just don’t see the Academy going for this adaptation with Oscar catnip like ‘War Horse’, ‘The Descendants’, ‘Moneyball’, and maybe even ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ in contention, among others. It seems too “out there” for their tastes.
Still, what about Harry Potter? That’s further “out there” for so many (voters), as skin grafts and obsession, the latter which, is so mainstream. Not to mention, the rise of the right.