Thursday, Feb. 23 — Before he was an international sex symbol, Antonio Banderas
was a familiar face to fans of the films of Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.
More than 20 years since their last collaboration (“Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”),
but they are reunited in “The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito),” an elegantly twisted
science-fiction/psychological thriller/romance that’s utterly bizarre and
stunningly stylish, even by Almodovar’s standards.
The screenplay (a loose adaptation of Thierry Jonquet’s 1995
novel “Mygale” from Almodovar and his brother, Agustin) incorporates several
staples of Almodovar’s work: unrequited love, infidelity, vengeance, madness,
etc. Still, there’s no mistaking this for “Volver” or “All About My Mother.”
Almodovar happily referenced Hitchcock and 1950s cinema in his previous film,
“Broken Embraces”; the frosty, sterile atmosphere of “Skin” recalls Stanley
Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Shining” and “Eyes Wide Shut,” although
the details and dialogue are pure Almodovar.
Beneath its sci-fi surface, “Skin” is really about identity
and transference, a story of how appearances, even alluring ones, can conceal
sordid secrets. “You’re not my son — I just gave birth to you!” an infuriated
housekeeper (Marisa Paredes) tells her thieving son, Zeca (Roberto Alamo), who
has shown up at her door dressed in a tiger costume and displaying scars on his
face that make it look like he might have been in a tussel with a big cat. Zeca’s
get-up is appropriate, since he’s hunting down Vera (Elena Anaya), an enigmatic
beauty who lives an almost hermetic life in the stupendous mansion of
boundary-pushing plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Ledgard (Banderas, burying his
usual humor and charm beneath a steely glare).
Vera has got a few odd outfits of her own: Her days are
spent wandering around in a flesh-colored body suit, while her closets are full
of cut-up dresses that provide some clues about her fractured soul. Thanks to
Ledgard, she’s little more than a lithe laboratory animal, doing yoga or
daydreaming while the profoundly disturbed — and disturbing — Ledgard watches
her on an enormous monitor. (Vera dubs herself Vera Cruz, which seems to be an
in-joke for Almodovar admirers: Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz’s career was also
launched by his films.)
Ledgard, still mourning his wife’s untimely death in a fiery
car crash, has devoted his life to transgenic research, developing a synthetic
skin that will be more durable and resilient than anything nature could
provide. He has given this creation the same name as his late spouse — Gal —
and, because this is a horror story, he has been using it for demented
purposes. Without revealing any major surprises, let’s simply say Ledgard has
very good reasons for keeping Vera captive.
Almodovar relishes putting enormously attractive people like
Banderas and Anaya in plush settings and allowing us to become voyeurs as they
think the unthinkable, do the impossible and cruise toward the brink of
insanity. Alberto Iglesias’ tingling, sensuous
score surrounds the striking imagery like misty moonlight, giving the picture
one more coat of gloss. It is all profoundly creepy and demented, yet it’s
presented in ravishing colors and eye-scorching style: Almodovar even offers us
the sight of a suicide attempt that could be mistaken for a fashion shoot.
“I’ve got insanity in my entrails!” Manilla wails, cursing her lamentable lineage. “Skin” has insanity everywhere, but Almodovar makes it all look and sound so seductive that you may not realize until the final reel exactly how perverse it really is.
'The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito)'
7 and 9:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24, Saturday, Feb. 25 and Sunday, Feb. 26
Wells Hall, Michigan State University
$7; $5 seniors; $3 students
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 and Wednesday, Feb. 29
Hannah Community Center
819 Abbot Road, East Lansing
$8; $6 seniors; $3 students