A man shows up on a doorstep completely out of the blue and manages to get into the house, tie up the housekeeper and sexually assault the patient living upstairs — all while, naturally, dressed as a tiger. This tension pitted against absurdist comedy is exactly the type of thing to expect in a Pedro Almodóvar movie.
In “The Skin I Live In“, Antonio Banderas plays Robert Ledgard, a doctor who houses his own patients and has been working on a top secret, highly influential project — how to artificially grow new skin. However, the audience knows this just doesn’t add up. The patient he keeps in his house, Vera (Elena Anaya), seems perfectly healthy, but wears only a nylon body suit and is locked in her stark room at all times. Her kidnapping is just the beginning of a tightly woven tale of family and revenge.
The perfectly titled film focuses mostly on the contradiction between outer appearances and the inner soul. Almodóvar creates a scenario where the addition of new skin represents a larger physical change and contrasts with the emotional frailties that are left behind. This is demonstrated best in plot points too macabre and gruesome to mention, but also in smaller details such as spotlights on tattoos and wrinkles. The meticulous absurdity of each moment unspools as if in a Spanish soap opera, which doesn’t seem too implausible considering that it is a Spanish movie. There are fantastic character revelations slipped so seamlessly into the plot that the absurdity just works.
Almodóvar has created a triumph of tone and tension in this erotic thriller, and it’s more than a little terrifying too — the doctor is menacing in a subtle and calculating way.
For those not familiar with Spanish cinema or Almodóvar’s work, this is an excellent point of entry. The tension is so tightly wound that you forget you’re watching a film. It seems, instead, as though you’re living the story with the characters in this highly stylized nightmare.