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Review: The Skin I Live In

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar returns with an extravagant tale of lust, love and lunacy

'The Skin I Live In'

Photo by: Sony Pictures Classics

Elena Anaya (left) and Pedro Almodóvar on the set of <i>The Skin I Live In</i>.

En español | "I have insanity in my entrails," says one of the characters in The Skin I Live In, the latest from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar — and that statement is as good a way as any to describe this utterly loco, highly stylized and fascinating film.

See also: Interview with Antonio Banderas.

A wacko combination of surrealism, sexual hijinks and horror-film plotting — it's as if a sequel to Saw featuring explicit sex had been made by a high-art auteur — The Skin I Live In stars Antonio Banderas as Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon whose wife and daughter die under separate, but bizarre, circumstances. To compensate for his loss, the doctor embarks on some highly unethical, and groundbreaking, surgical experiments which ultimately lead to a series of not unexpected tragedies.

Based on the novel Tarantula, by French writer Thierry Jonquet, Almodóvar's film borrows from the Frankenstein legend, Luis Buñuel's surrealistic mindset and the 1960 French film Eyes Without a Face, in which a surgeon kidnaps young women to graft their faces onto the body of his daughter, disfigured in a car crash. Yet the resulting movie is purely Pedro: Lushly shot, visually stimulating and infused with a kinky sexuality, it's his unique way of discussing obsessive behavior and its unintended consequences.

In fact, The Skin I Live In would be utterly ridiculous if not for Almodóvar's sure hands. Any movie that includes a leopard-costumed jewel thief, a housekeeper with some very dark secrets and enough tonal shifts for at least a half dozen more films isn't the easiest production to keep on course. But the Spanish master, known for his highly charged melodramas, displays confidence in the material, even when it detours into total flamboyance.

He is also aided immeasurably by his cast, particularly Banderas. Sleekly handsome but very, very chilly, his Dr. Ledgard is a psychotic obsessive who appears normal on the outside but is willing to commit all sorts of crimes to achieve his ends. It's a spookily watchable performance, complemented by Elena Anaya's work as Vera Cruz (yes, that's the character's name), a wide-eyed, innocent-looking beauty who is the object of Ledgard's pathological desires.

The Skin I Live In (rated R) is definitely not for everyone but love it or hate it, it's one hell of a show.

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