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The Skin I Live In (2011)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/6/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/6/2012
When I think of international or world cinema, I immediately picture Italian horror movies and Japanese ghost stories. I'm pretty sure that I'm in the minority with that (you don't see these movies being nominated for Best Foreign Language Film). Most people think of international cinema as arthouse movies from Europe or Asia -- the more inscrutable the better. One of the darlings of European movies is Pedro Almodovar. This Spanish filmmaker has been making movies since the late 70s and he's created a very unique cinematic voice. And yet, up until now, I'd only seen one of his movies, 1990's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (and I wasn't motivated by any artistic drive to see it). After seeing The Skin I Live In, I can't help but wonder if I was mistaken to overlook Almodovar's work.
Antonio Banderas stars in The Skin I Live In as Robert Ledgard, a respected plastic surgeon and research scientist. Robert has been attempting to perfect artificial skin grafts and he's been present at several face transplants. He lives in a mansion with his maid, Marilia (Marisa Paredes), and Vera (Elena Anaya), a woman who remains locked in a nicely furnished room. Vera appears to be one of Robert's patients, as we see him examining her skin and she dresses in a bodysuit which would presumably aid in the healing of skin. However, as the story progresses, we begin to learn more about his past. His family life holds some dark secrets and when we discover how Vera came to live with him, the movie takes a very morbid turn. The kind of madness going on in that house can only end in tragedy.
Based on a novel by Thierry Jonquet, The Skin I Live In shows a different side of Almodovar. While I've only seen one of his films, I'm very aware of his other movies, and despite what little I knew about The Skin I Live In, I'd expected it to fall in line with his earlier work. And in some ways, it does, as it deals with damaged people, strong female characters, and dysfunctional relationships. But, the movie also has a science-fiction side as well, which is very similar to something which would have been in one of David Cronenberg's early movies. Like Cronenberg, the movie dabbles in science which seems very realistic save for some small exaggerations. This helps to make the movie all the more disturbing -- it's far-fetched, but not so much that part of us doesn't feel that it could happen.
The Skin I Live In draws its real power from the way in which the story is told. At the outset, the movie seems decidedly weird, but the story appears to be fairly straight-forward and we understand how the characters fit together. This goes on for quite some time, then the story splits into flashbacks via Robert and Vera (an unusual story-telling device) and we learn the truth. I had no idea that the film contained a plot twist and thus, I was floored when I discovered what was really happening. (Of course, if you haven't seen the film, you've now learned that there's a twist, so you may not have the same experience.) Unlike most films, the twist isn't dropped like a bombshell. Instead, it's very casually revealed and the viewer has a the creeping realization of what they've just witnessed. This makes the whole thing all the more shocking. I wasn't crazy about the very end of the movie, although, ironically, it was the best way for the story to end. It just seemed a little safe compared to the rest of the movie.
Many of Almodovar's films have been considered controversial and The Skin I Live In will certainly fit that bill. However, I think even his long-time fans will find this one shocking. The movie doesn't shy away from explicit sex and violence, but it's the genuinely disturbing story which makes the one memorable. The twist is jarring, but it's the overall vibe of the movie which will stay with you.
The Skin I Live In had me distracted as times, as I kept hearing Puss in Boots talking on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 28 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The crispness of the picture provides a great deal of detail and we can make out textures on objects. The depth is good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are notably good, as they are detailed and do a nice job of illustrating sounds coming from off-screen. A party scene and one action scene provide good surround sound effects. The film's music fills the speakers and really adds presence.
The Skin I Live In Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "The Making of The Skin I Live In" (12 minutes) is merely a series of reels showing on-set footage. We see the cast and crew at work, but we don't get any interviews, comments, or narration. "An Evening with Pedro Almodovar" (74 minutes) takes us to a show which was held at USC. Moderated by Anne Thompson, talks at length about his career, his movies, and his love of cinema. This is a must-see for Almodovar fans. "On the Red Carpet: New York Premiere" (3 minutes) shows Almodovar and the cast at the 2011 New York Film Festival. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long