Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Skin I Live In - directed by Pedro Almodovar

directed by Pedro Almodovar
In a sense, every story is a game of "What If" -- a game in which a reader or viewer becomes like a spectator at a sporting event. As the story progresses before us -- be it on a page or on a screen -- we witness the choices its creator made. This is how many of us judge whether or not we enjoy a particular tale. If we agree or respect those choices, we enjoy the story. If we don't, then the story has failed us.

Pedro Almodovar has made a career of making surprising, even shocking, choices. Using a color-saturated palette, he has created melodramatic stories, such as Volver, Talk To Her, and All About My Mother, that highlight issues of sexuality, gender, and individual choice. They are highly moral stories, but they achieve their effects by wallowing in what most of us would consider immorality. Naturally, they are chock-full of incidents of violence and sexual predation, betrayal and emotional pettiness.

As such, they are not movies that I recommend for prudes (that is, people whose aesthetics and sympathies are too rigid to entertain even the slightest bit of strangeness).

But I think Almodovar's movies are fascinating. Not only does he create characters who face profound existential questions, they do so in ways that strike me as both incredibly entertaining and credible. This, I think, is why his actors tend to speak of working with him in adoring tones. Penelope Cruz has famously said  that she would do anything he asked without question, a relationship that led to her transcendent performance in Volver.

In The Skin I Live In, Almodovar has once again fashioned a melodramatic thriller that touches on his favorite themes. And its plot is audaciously weird, skipping back and forth in time, incorporating elements of science fiction, horror & crime drama, and featuring visually stunning set pieces, such as an opening that places our story on an estate in the pastoral outskirts of Toledo, Spain, before settling on a provocatively-dressed woman in a yoga pose.

Elena Anaya inhabits the center of The Skin I Live In

Played by Elena Anaya (one of several Almodovar alums in the film), she literally embodies the crux of this story, and it's a role that few actresses are strong enough -- or limber enough -- to pull off. How she came to be doing yoga in that room (and what happens afterward) will require every second of running time to portray. Her foil is Antonio Banderas, giving a deliciously reptilian performance as a surgeon with, shall we say, issues.

An example of Almodovar's love of visual composition.

Since The Skin I Live In is so dependent on the revelations of its plot, I won't divulge too many of its juicy details, except to say that this movie sits squarely in the corpus of Almodovar's career. But it's also perhaps the most tightly-controlled story he has ever created, a chinese box of flashbacks and twists, which gives the movie a kind of jigsaw-puzzle coldness that some people may find off-putting. Though it has none of the emotional smolder & flash of Volver, The Skin I Live In earns its sad & provocative closing line.

I've said too much. See it for yourself. It's a story that won't fail you.

written & directed by Pedro Almodovar

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