I love filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s almost effortless ability to create iconic movie moments. If I have any criticism of his latest film, The Skin I Live In, it is that it is too much of a good thing. The movie is an overstuffed grab-bag of pulp sensationalism: a demented plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas), parallel suicides, a rapist in a tiger suit, a chained prisoner, burn-resistant super-skin, and several violent deaths by gunshot.
And the above list is just a small sample. Fans of the classic over-the-top Almodóvar — of, say, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, his 1988 collaboration with Banderas — will not be disappointed. This film will also please those who like when Almodóvar explores the fluid boundaries of sexuality such as in his recent, more-restrained masterpieces like Talk to Her and Bad Education. Without revealing the central surprise embedded in the film’s Pulp Fiction-esque nested doll structure, let’s just say that casting Elena Anaya, an actress perhaps best known for the steamy lesbian affair film Room in Rome, as Gal, is likely no accident.
Since the story is ostensibly based on a French novel by Thierry Jonquet, Mygale, with which I am not familiar, I can’t say whether Almodóvar added in Almodóvarian elements or they were what attracted him to begin with. I can safely guess that the integration of a hypnotic performance by the singer Buika and the over-sized voodoo-doll sculptures — artist unknown, so I’ll credit production designer Antxon Gómez — is pure Almodovar, given his penchant for incorporating art in all its varied forms into his tales.
The Skin I Live In is preposterous, melodramatic, shocking, beautiful, thrilling, horrifying and also a deep meditation on the nature of identity. It doesn’t all cohere — Brazilian nanny Marilia (Marisa Paredes) and the daughter character Norma (Bianca Suárez) could have used more development — but I can hardly think of a film that surprised me more, even when I could guess what was coming. If you like having your mind blown in a cinematic manner, I recommend a dose of the latest Amodóvar.