The Skin I Live In (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
7Mar/126

The Skin I Live In (2011)

Note: It is difficult to discuss this film without delving into spoiler territory, moreso than any Almodovar film in recent memory.  Please proceed with caution.

There are a few different schools of thought I've come across when it comes to the proper punishment for rape.  In that power fantasy gone violent, the act of sex becomes the weapon and the opposite gender the target, be it a professional rival or a random woman on the street.  The most common punishment I've heard involves a quick flick of a straight razor and a permanent alteration to the sex life of the offender forever.

For those looking to tackle Almodovar's latest, The Skin I Live In, it's important to consider the implications of any punishment where rape is involved.  This isn't exactly foreign territory for him as Almodovar has long trafficked in the melodramatic possibilities of sexual violence as a plot point.  With a lesser director it might seem unnecessary, but Almodovar has always been sensitive to the aftershocks of sexual violence and the heightened emotions it brings.  He has always found a way to fit it into his larger soapy framework, where the outsize emotions might seem silly if they weren't so accurate.

The Skin I Live In (TSILI) is a rare misstep for the great director because it misses the point of where, exactly, those sympathies should lie.  In execution (if diverging in tone) it recalls Atom Egoyan's foray into empathizing with monsters, the great Felicia's Journey.  But that film ultimately realized the monster was just that, even if it took great strides to understand where he was coming from.  TSILI raises a number of fascinating questions, but it's attempts at empathy come at the level of the rapist.  Can a film like that be successful?  Not coming from one as obsessed with grandstanding and color as Almodovar.

Grievances with the philosophy of the film aside, this is still a damn good looking film from Almodovar.  Every time I go into one of his films I lament the death of Technicolor.  The colors and life spring alive in a way that creepily underscores the sexual violence at the center of TSILI, drawing your attention to the voyeuristic possibilities of sexual transformation.  Almodovar makes the forbidden more tantalizing than ever, at times taunting you with just how sensual evil is.

That same confidence extends to his performers even if there are no particular standouts.  This does not apply to Antonio Banderas, who is asked to do some heavy lifting for the first in a very long time.  It's refreshing to watch him speaking in his native language, guided by a director who knows how to use his sexuality as a weapon.  He's trafficked in his rogueish persona in English-speaking roles for so long I forgot that he used to be the Spanish equivalent of George Clooney.  Both are made for a suave darkness  the right directors know how to bring out, and Banderas does excellently here.

Even the score is amazing.  I have not heard a film utilize stringed instruments in such a frenetic way in a long time.  As Banderas' skin doctor delves deeper into his gender-based obsession the violence and paranoia build around the amazing score produced by Alberto Iglesias.  It's a real treat to feel the emotion gather around each scene where his music plays the largest role, and from top to bottom TSILI is a fantastically produced affair.

So why the indifference?  At the midpoint of the film it feels as though the story realized it was about the empathetic reaction to a rapists crime without giving anyone an "objective" moral compass to go by.  I realize morality is the most subjective aspect of our existence here, but by the end of the film the only person the rapist has to judge him is himself.  This leads to a meandering string of plot lines in the center of the film where Almodovar takes his usual non-linear approach to storytelling and tells the most straightforward story of revenge, even if the punishment is unique.

Sad the film meanders so badly because some of the ideas of TSILI make for wonderful conversation fodder.  Are you defined by the sex you were born with, or the gender society labels you?  Is it even important to distinguish the difference between male and female as surgical advances proceed into more elaborate gender transformation techniques?  For someone as interested in the continued blurring the lines of sex and sexuality as I am this film gave me a lot to ponder, even if it wasn't presented in a way I enjoyed.

I can't defend a movie where the rapist gets off with his freedom.  Yes, there is the irony in his punishment where he may become the victim of the very crime that transformed him, but it is still freedom.  The film recognizes the very real trauma sexual violence causes to those who survive (if at all) and try to move on.  The melodrama, color, and convenient plotting don't cover up the fact that a meandering plot allowed a rapist to go free.

Much like Martha Marcy May Marlene from a couple of weeks ago I do not dissuade anyone from watching TSILI.  Even though I disagree with the outcome, it still serves as a  damn fine conversation starter for anyone interested in gender dynamics in film.  The uncomfortable addition of a kitty cat costumed criminal is just another aspect we'll have to talk around.

The Skin I Live In (2011)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar.
Starring Antonio Banderas and Elena Anaya.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. It’s definitely a strange and pretty bizarre flick but the cast is great and as crazy as the story may get, it continues to get more and more interesting just as it go along. Pretty lame how this didn’t get nominated for an Oscar though. Good review Andrew.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. I agree the cast is uniformly stellar, but when the film starts to explain itself around the halfway mark it gets a bit too meandery for its own good. My girlfriend and I figured out the “twist” about thirty minutes in and then the film doesn’t really explore the intriguing questions it raises with gender and sex.

      I still love it raised those questions to begin with, so I certainly don’t fault anyone for liking the film, I just wish it went deeper into thought and less into melodrama.

  2. I’ll have to come back and read this piece, after I’ve seen the film. I saw it recently was released on iTunes … I’ll have to give it a go.

    • iTunes and PSN have become my go-to places to gather most of my films. I’ll be interested to get your commentary once you’ve finished. It’s a gorgeous film, no doubt, but a bit troubling with the plot results and what they mean in the long run.

      Please post your thoughts when you can, I’ll look forward to reading them.

  3. I actually thought it was an excellent film. One of the best I saw from 2011. It has inspired me to track down the rest of Almodovar’s work.

    …I agree, it is difficult reviewing/discussing this film without giving away spoilers…I think I just about managed it with my review.

    • Thanks for the comment Dan. My indifference is in terms of Almodovar’s other films. In relation to other films it’s certainly more ambitious and technically well-executed. But other films reached for the stars and struck a giant (Melancholia, Another Earth, Drive, Take Shelter and many others) whereas TSILI falls short.

      Almodovar has done much better work, as Danny’s reviews have and will continue to show (Bad Education is still my favorite). The issue with reviewing TSILI is I have to spoil portions of it to explain my distaste with how Almodovar handles rape, which still puzzles me since he’s done this better before.


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