The Skin I Live In – Review by Susan Granger

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Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar has devised a psychosexual thriller, a perverse, convoluted story that revolves around a celebrated plastic surgeon and his beautiful captive patient.

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) works in almost complete isolation in a stunning clinical compound called El Cigarral (the Orchard), located outside Toledo, Spain. He’s obsessed with ‘transgenesis,’ conducting cellular experiments that – while they violate standard bioethics – have enabled him to perfect a fire-resistant artificial skin. He’s motivated by the horrific burns and disfiguring scarring that his wife, now deceased, suffered in a car crash.

Clad neck-to-toe in a flesh-colored body stocking, curvaceous Vera (Elena Anaya) is his captive patient, a human guinea pig for his grafting. Observed by Robert on a wall-size video surveillance screen, she practices yoga, scribbles on the walls and meditates in solitude, receiving her meals via a dumb waiter. Enigmatic in demeanor, she’s watched over by Robert’s dutiful, devoted ‘housekeeper,’ Marila (Marisa Parades), whose wastrel son, Zeca (Robert Alamo), makes an unexpected and unwelcome visit during Carnival, clad in a tiger costume.

Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel “Mygale,” this Dr. Frankenstein-like, existential melodrama is revolting yet riveting with creepy, voyeuristic fascination, as flashbacks reveal a fateful encounter at a family wedding six years earlier between Robert’s mentally disturbed teenage daughter, Norma (Blanca Surez), and a junkie named Vincente (Jan Cornet) who works with his mother in a clothing boutique.

During press interviews, writer/director Pedro Almodovar has cited the influence of Hitchcock, Bunuel, Fritz Lang, the Hammer horror films, the psychedelic kitsch of Dario Argento and the lyricism of Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face” – all of which are obvious.

Superbly cast as the psychopath, Antonio Banderas reteams with Almodovar for the first time since their collaboration in “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down” (1990), in which Banderas played a man recently released from a mental hospital.

In Spanish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Skin I Live In” is a hyper-stylized 8, a shocking, stunning interlude designed to make you shudder.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.