It was simply a pleasure to discover Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, La Piel Habito (The Skin I Live In) (2011) which, as an adaptation of the novel Tarantula by French author Thierry Jonquet, is perhaps the very first film made by the great Spaniard truly to break the mould of his previous work.
Instead of subtly blending genres and genre references, the film places itself squarely into the work of Alfred Hitchcock – in look and feel, in its seamless blend of drama, thriller and, yes, horror, it is probably even closer to Psycho (1960) than it is to what might be considered as its most obvious Hitch comparison piece, namely Vertigo (1958).
However, in its staging, virtuosity and beautifully perverse examination of places in the human psyche that you really *don’t* want to go, it is in fact closest to Georges Franju’s sublime Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face). (1960)
What’s more, La Piel Habito sees the very welcome return of Antonio Banderas to ‘serious’ acting, following his somewhat lengthy sojourn as the voice of, ahem, ‘Puss in Boots’ or messing around with his chum, hack horror director Robert Rodriguez.
Banderas plays plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, who, obsessed with making amends for the tragedy that befell his wife (she was hideously burned) wants to fashion a synthetic, impervious skin. But the mysterious, beautiful Vera (Elena Anaya), who seems only too willing to be Ledgard’s guinea pig, has more than a few secrets of ‘her’ own.
So, let’s see – how many emotional rollercoasters can be crammed into one film? Well, we have Stockholm syndrome, ‘Mother is…not herself today’, and sexual change and trauma, just for starters – but La Piel Habito shows Almodóvar to be not only a master of melodrama, but of the thriller and horror genres likewise.
It is a marvel – blackly humorous, erotic, sick and sometimes surreal, La Piel Habito emerges as a flamboyant film noir, a fever dream and a gem. Enough said.
117 mins. In Spanish.