rating: 4After impressing at the Cannes Film Festival this May, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvars latest offering hit UK shelves this Boxing Day. Its the perfect antidote to Festive and New Year over-indulgence and British consumers release comes a full three months before the expected US counterpart is due to come out So what are you waiting for? Read on for our review! Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate in his own laboratory, a skin that is sensitive to caresses, but a real shield against all the aggressions, both external and internal, to which our largest organ is submitted. To obtain it, he has used the possibilities provided by cellular therapy. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a human guinea pig, an accomplice and no scruples. Scruples were never a problem; they werent part of his character. Marilia (Marisa Paredes), the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig Over the course of each year, dozens of young people of both sexes disappear from their homes, in many cases of their own will. One of those young people will end up sharing the splendid mansion, El Cigarral, with Robert and Marilia, and will be doing so unwillingly... Director Pedro Almodóvar has never been one to shy away from controversy or tackling morally and emotionally complicated themes within his films. The Skin I Live In is very much a film of this nature. The film touches upon a series of complex and thought-provoking themes, from all-consuming obsession through to multiple layers of imprisonment. Symbolism is something Almodóvars films have become synonymous with and here viewers are transported to a realm where a character has been robbed of one of her most precious possessions: her own skin. In Almodóvars film it is this skin that symbolises the very essence of who Vera (Elena Anaya) is Not only has she been pillaged of her fundamental being and has become encased within a synthetic, false skin, shes also been literally imprisoned within the walls of the grand El Cigarral. The character of Vera is the most literal reading of this symbolism, but Dr Ledgard is a far more intriguing realisation of this. Plagued by the fact that he was unable to save his wife after her accident, Ledgard has become imprisoned within his own obsessions to overcome the obstacles that were the cause of his earlier failure. Linked within this overarching them of imprisonment comes Almodóvars usual canon of tropes: gender, identity and the pursuit of non-traditional (or even, twisted) sexual desires. These themes all link seamlessly via the directors typical ability to connect even the most obscure and unobvious of events/tropes/characters and whilst the film is not likely to be called conventional, its constant back-and-forth, revelatory narrative style creates a unique and memorable viewing experience. The film exhibits some similarities to the classic canon of horror movies that Hollywood churned out through the 1930s to 1950s. However, Almodóvar has progressed from the cheap schlock of these assembly line produced features to create something as polished and near perfect as Vera herself. Gone are the overtly gothic and highly theatrical scientific settings of films such as The Brain That Wouldnt Die or Frankenstein for example (both of which bear some similar themes or plot motivations to The Skin I Live In itself), instead replaced by a sleek, minimalist aesthetic. The ultra-modern styling of the Art Direction helps intensify the clinical quality of the tension surrounding the narrative and the film is a far more unsettling thriller than most overly horrific contemporary ones. Like Veras skin, the film is framed and shot flawlessly. The images evoke a perfectionism that appears almost as synthetic as Ledgards creation and this in turn generates the overarching tone of unease that makes the film so effective. Banderas gives a performance that will remind viewers of his excellent acting abilities. To the role of the mad scientist Robert Ledgard he brings the intensity of his early performances and fully convinces in his role as an obsessive trapped within his own scientific and emotional fixation. Ledgard is not immediately the most likeable of characters, but Almodóvar cleverly weaves the characters tale through the narrative to help generate audience sympathy and empathy. Essentially Ledgard has been unable to escape the tragedy of his wifes accident and whilst he has gone to extremes to extinguish this sense of anguish, he has simply done what any husband would have: worked tirelessly to undo the pain of his wifes death. Banderas perfectly captures the passion within Ledgards obsession and seamlessly slips into the realms of complete madness convincingly. Elena Anaya is superbly cast as Vera, giving a performance that never becomes over the top or melodramatic. The chemistry between the two stars is evident, but they retain a sense of awkwardness and unease in each others presence. Banderas proficiently captures Ledgards emotional torment between his scientific obsession with Vera as his test subject and his deep-rooted sexual attraction toward her. Both Banderas and Anaya give performances that help display Almodóvars themes and create a narrative that is both darkly compelling and at times entirely unsettling. In fact, you may find that the skin you live in may just begin to crawl
QUALITYHigh definition is undoubtedly the most remarkable way to view The Skin I Live In and the transfer here will not disappoint viewers. Visually the film is virtually as flawless as the synthetic skin Ledgard covers the already beautiful Vera in. There are literally no instances of unsightly grain, blemishing or image distortion to corrupt the many images of Veras immaculate skin and viewers will not find anything to distract them from the tense narrative. Colour palettes are varied, but tend to veer towards colder and more sterile colours, helping to achieve the clinically uneasy tone. Whites, greys, blacks and steely blues dominate the background settings on screen, whilst the falsely beige tone of Veras synthetic skin is somehow both beautifully faultless and eerily too perfect. This contrasts to Banderass naturally golden skin tone, which brings brief moments of warmth to scenes: particularly those in the bedroom. Splashes of brighter colours permeate throughout the narrative and remind viewers of the beauty of high definition transfers. The audio quality is similarly fine, with dialogue clean and clear throughout. There are no hints of hiss or other impurities and the subtitles are aesthetically well designed and offer solid translations.
The release houses some interesting and informative supplementary materials that will help viewers delve into the mind of the films creator, as well as revealing some entertaining behind the scenes footage. Viewers can expect to find the following bonus material on the Blu-ray release:
Behind the Scenes Featurettes Somerset House Premiere Featurette Production Photography Gallery Theatrical Trailer Teaser TrailerFilm: 4 out of 5 This dark, brooding, emotional and compelling film is essential viewing for those after a film that allows them to sink their teeth a little further into the narrative. With a multitude of themes and symbolism, The Skin I Live In will not disappoint! Visuals: 5 out of 5 Almodóvars vision is beautifully translated to the screen in virtually flawless high definition. Viewers will be treated to images practically as perfect as Veras faultless skin, with no noticeable grain, blemishing or distortion. Audio: 4.5 out of 5 The audio track is nearly as perfect as the images, with clean, crisp dialogue throughout and a solid distinction between background channels. Extras: 3.5 out of 5 A good range of special features gives the viewers the opportunity to go behind the scenes of the film and learn more about the production. Whilst theres nothing as in depth as a feature length commentary, the collection of material should satisfy most viewers. Presentation: 4 out of 5 The front cover bears the most recognisable image from the films advertising, so its perhaps not the most inventive of Blu-ray artwork. However, this image is the one that is the most haunting, striking and evocative of the narrative themes and as such makes it the most relevant choice. Menus are standard, but easy to navigate through. Overall: 4 out of 5 This immensely enjoyable film combines just the right combination of dark thrills and intriguing mystery, as well as two fantastic central performances. The superb quality of the Blu-ray release allows viewers to experience the sheer beauty of Almodóvars creation and is one disc that should be on everyones shelves! The Skin I Live In is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.