Revenge is something so uniquely human, yet so animalistic. Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In (2011) is a film of revenge at it’s most raw. Almodóvar never shy’s away from the tough issues, and this picture is no different. The Skin I Live In follows a middle-aged plastic surgeon played by Antonio Banderas, and a beautiful young girl who is being held captive in his home. The narrative presents some interesting ethical questions, but as a whole, the picture is wrought with inadequacy.
During the first thirty minutes of the movie several mysteries are posed. Why is the young girl not aloud to leave? What are the ethical implications of crossing animal and human DNA? What happened to the man’s wife and daughter? Etc. As the narrative progresses light is shed on each issue with the exception of the DNA, which gets almost completely abandoned. It was dropped in as meaningless fluff. The exposition throughout the film is where the majority of the flaws arise. Almodóvar treats the viewer as someone illiterate in film syntax and bereft of life experience. The picture is littered with big reveals each of which comes after any astute viewer has already been able to surmise the information. By the last shot of the film there is not a shred of uncertainty left to the story. Almodóvar appears to have been influenced by the 1966 film The Face of Another. He directly references the surgeon’s workspace using the same glass walls, and similar camera angles. It is an ironic coupling because The Face of Another is a film full of subtly and tact, exactly what Almodóvar lacks.
Almodóvar could have saved his film by removing whole scenes that are unnecessary and distasteful as well as having some trust in the viewers. When we see a young couple disappear into the woods it is easily assumed what has transpired without being explicit. However, for Almodóvar that is not enough, he instead shows the already implied scene of sexual assault. The scene does not enhance the narrative what so ever, it is purely the director in search of shock value. Almodóvar does this not once, but twice showing two rape scenes in the single film neither of which serve any significant emotional effect. He should have focused on the rising tension leading up to the assaults, and left out the actual attack the effect would have been much stronger. Time and time again there is unnecessary exposition; it is a cop out for Almodóvar as he lacks the mastery to use implication well.
Almodóvar needs to learn a thing or two about subtly before he is ever going to make a film that’s worthwhile. Admittedly this is the only one of his pictures I have seen, and maybe it was a fluke, but I highly doubt it. Judging from what he is known for, this seems to be a recurring flaw in his work. Almodóvar is known for being controversial, and in this film he is trying much too hard. The concepts were intriguing, but wildly mishandled by a writer/director lacking the finesse to create something deserving of any merit.