Cannes 2011 Review: Pedro Almodóvar's Brilliant 'The Skin I Live In'
by Alex Billington
May 20, 2011
I love when great films surprise me. Both in terms of story and in terms of my expectations. I had no clue what to expect with Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar's latest film La piel que habito, which roughly translates to The Skin I Live In (weird teasers didn't help either), but hot damn was this fantastic. Pedro is a Cannes Film Festival regular but has delivered a film this year that is completely different from most of his previous work yet still kicks ass. It was a wild and crazy experience, to be frank, but damn good. In fact, I'll even call it a brilliant film for the story and its ideas and the way Almodovar challenges sexuality.
As much as I'd love to dive into a full discussion on this film, there are certain story elements which I dare not spoil and will stay away from ruining. The basic plot is that Antonio Banderas plays a rich, genius surgeon/doctor who is keeping a women locked up in his lavish home. He's not mean to her and is pretty much just holding her to keep her pure and untouched. At first we see he's attempting to develop skin so tough that it won't burn, but we soon discover he has darker intentions and we're thrown down the twisted Almodovar rabbit hole that is crazier than anyone could imagine. I'd like to call this the Antichrist of Cannes 2011, but there's no clit cutting or penis smashing, thank goodness, but there are crazy plot twists like that.
Anyone who has seen an Almodovar film knows to expect lush, colorful set design, gorgeous cinematography, intense performances, and much more. The Skin I Live In has all that, but it's the story that makes this one such a fascinating, edge-of-your-seat-like thriller (even though it comes in at 120 minutes), exploring ideas related to sexuality that only someone like Pedro Almodovar could address with this kind of finesse. He's able to keep all of the story elements coherent and connected while telling a completely unlinear story with many unique reveals along the way. It's truly a film that only Almodovar could've directed.
What I loved most about The Skin I Live In is the way it challenges sexuality (as ambiguous as that sounds). I can't really talk about exactly how without ruining the plot, but Almodovar sets up sexuality one way then completely twists it later on. Not only does it fit with the story but it will unquestionably cause some moviegoers to end up uncomfortable and that's exactly why I love it. I've never seen any filmmaker tackle these ideas so subtly yet still deliver a beautiful film filled with beautiful people that was satisfyingly entertaining throughout. Almodovar seems to have a knack for that kind of storytelling but truly knocks it out of the park this time.
As expected, the performances are all top notch as well and this would not have been nearly as good if it weren't lead by fantastic actors like Antonio Banderas and Spanish actress Elena Anaya. Banderas is the best he's been in years, intense at times, sensual at others, a tour de force that brings a quality that makes this so great. I didn't expect to love a new Almodovar film this much, but I did love it, and if anyone else wants to get a glimpse of (more) Spanish filmmaking at its finest, make sure to catch The Skin I Live In in theaters later this year.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 9 out of 10