The Skin I Live In Review
Some may consider it customary to include, to a degree at least, a synopsis of the plot during a review of a film release. I'm not sure that it is always necessary to include an overview of the plot of a film, and certainly, in some cases I've had a film viewing experience ruined by the knowledge I've absorbed after reading a review. Naturally, some films are underpinned by a plot which sits very much second to other factors, but since Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In contains a powerful plot whose twists and turns are amplified by an intelligent narrative composition, I will refrain from discussing the plot in any detail (save for some items which I will discuss in isolation), and I would strongly recommend that you avoid reading any other elements surrounding the plot until you have watched the film for yourself, lest you dilute the substantial impact this clever film delivers.
The Skin I Live In is a shocking yet pleasant surprise, as Almodóvar directs Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya in his stimulating and thought provoking Spanish language chiller. Almodóvar generates an undeniably darker tone in this presentation, which may deter his previously garnered fans, yet there's something about his colourful, high culture approach to what is essentially a work of horror which makes the film utterly unique and refreshing. This chronicle of the horrific is not awash with blood, guts, and visceral shocks; indeed, there's nothing here which could be described as especially gory. Rather, Almodóvar delivers something of a conceptual and emotional horror, a sense of foreboding, anxiety, and eventual violation which is disturbing beyond that of the visual, a slowly unfolding set of circumstances, actions, and consequences which intrigue and terrify us as their revelation is carefully architected. The Skin I Live In is part Frankensteinian classical allusion - a cautionary tale against the peril that occurs from our dabbling with nature - and part modern drama, a very much people-centred story with some of Almodóvar's familiar themes woven into the fabric of an altogether more chilling tale. It makes for a heady and vibrant concoction.
The director carefully manipulates us using a precisely planned plot structure, carving up the narrative and arranging it into an order which forces us to consider and then reconsider key events with rapidly fluctuating contextual and emotional perspectives. In short, we consider the same key events in a changing context as subtly different motivations and circumstances are revealed to us.
What’s particularly interesting in this respect is Almodóvar’s handling of the disquieting and ugly sexual violence. With his controlled release of information to the viewer, he depicts seemingly straightforward instances of sexual violation and highlights the resultant impact on the victims. Yet, as the plot unfolds, driven forward by a non-linear narrative, our understanding of the thoughts, motivations, and actions of the perpetrators and victims is skewed and coloured. By the time the film reaches its subtly impressive climax, our reactions to the characters have matured considerably in terms of complexity and depth, and the impact of the carefully documented tragedy leaves much stimulus for thought long after the film’s closure. This isn’t to say that the gravity of the sexual violence is somehow minimized (although some might argue this is so, with some credence); yet Almodóvar pays respect to his audience by refusing to portray overly simplistic and morally polarized characters and their flawed behaviour. This isn’t a film depicting the good guys and the bad; we are all fallible, we all make mistakes, and we all have to live with the consequences.
Crucially, Almodóvar's unusual film could easily have descended into farce were it not for the quality of the pacing, the convincing performances, and the rich cinematography. Without question, the premise upon which the director bravely bases the film (which is itself based loosely upon Thierry Jonquet's novel, Tarantula) could easily have become ridiculous. Banderas and Anaya are both superb in demanding lead roles, and Jan Cornet is equally solid in the role of Vicente. The actors play out this gloomy yarn against a vivid and rich Spanish backdrop, which is captured with colourful intensity by José Luis Alcaine's assured cinematography. And Alberto Iglesias's musical accompaniment is similarly indulgent, providing an exciting and engaging aural collusion for the stunning visuals.
I'm uncertain of what fans of, say, Volver will make of Almodóvar's intelligent shocker, yet if the same open mind which considers his earlier films is maintained for The Skin I Live In, there are rich rewards to be found here. His ultra-stylish movie may wander into the realms of pretentiousness at times, and it often makes for uncomfortable and disquieting viewing, but for the compelling questions it raises and for the sheer quality of the presentation, Almodóvar's latest release should prove something of a treat within and beyond his dedicated group of fans.
Pathe have assembled an attractive presentation of this Spanish film, as is evident from the menu system, which is minimal yet almost a work of art in itself.
Presented in 1080p and using MPEG-4 AVC Video compression, the transfer is strong, presenting the picture in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Almodóvar's familiarly vibrant and kaleidoscopic colours are displayed in suitably vivid fashion, and the darker scenes, such as those shot within the underground cell, benefit from strong representation of blacks and a level of definition which means that we can still see detail within the gloom.
English subtitles are included, and such is the standard that any thoughts about reading subtitles drift gently to the rear of your subconscious within minutes of the film opening. They prove well positioned, well proportioned, unobtrusive, and free from errors.
As a small note, it doesn't appear to be possible to switch off the subtitles via the menu system, and I was unable to disable them manually, too. Spanish speakers may therefore find this release unsatisfactory.
In terms of technical details, the content arrives on a BD50 Blu-ray disc, and since the film is fairly long at approximately 2 hours, the main file weighs in at a hefty 37.2 gig. The entire content on the disc consumes a total of 42.2 gig, there or thereabouts.
Alberto Iglesias provides an atmospheric and lively classical accompaniment to Almodóvar's picture, and the reproduction of the musical score here is excellent. The deep bass tones are haunting and are delivered to considerably chilling effect when using a sub. The Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack ensures that the film's aural experience is an immersive one which fully compliments the quality of the visuals.
Note that there is no option to switch to a stereo soundtrack.
Where Almodóvar's film is one of understated power, the extras are simply underwhelming.
A Behind the Scenes Featurettes piece is a 12 minute segment of behind the scenes footage with nothing by way of commentary or interview. In fact, many of the scenes are simply the scenes from the film shot from behind the scenes with the boom mic visible. I'm afraid I just don't see the point.
The Somerset House Premiere three minute slot is a little more interesting as we get to hear from Almodóvar himself, and the delicate yet engaging Elena Ayana.
This solemn set of extras concludes with a Teaser Trailer and Theatrical Trailer.
For a film of considerable depth and power, the extras here are disappointing, but a rich presentation of a sumptuously darker side of Almodóvar makes this a sound purchase for fans of the director and beyond.