The Skin I Live In (15)

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes

Geoffrey Macnab
Friday 26 August 2011 00:00 BST

Describe the plot of Pedro Almodóvar's 18th feature and it sounds like the kind of cheesy B-horror movie that Peter Lorre used to star in late in his career.

A brilliant but deranged plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) specialises in skin transplants. After his beautiful, mentally unstable daughter commits suicide, the surgeon vows revenge on the young man he holds responsible. The film boasts the most outrageous plot twist of any movie this year. It also contains the overboiled ingredients that lent such a strange taste to the Douglas Sirk melodramas of the 1950s that Almodóvar so admires: squabbling half-brothers, grief-stricken mothers, jealous fathers etc. What makes the film so unique is Almodóvar's approach toward his outlandish subject matter. It would be a mistake to describe his storytelling style as restrained. However, he directs in such deadpan fashion that you hardly notice how far-fetched the narrative really is. There is a fairy-tale element here too – a sense that in his own very perverse way, Almodóvar is revisiting the Beauty and the Beast myth. Banderas is the antithesis of the typical movie mad scientist: he's a soulful, introspective figure, more artist than monster. Elena Anaya is the woman he keeps locked away in his mansion in Toledo, moulding her so that she becomes more and more like his lost love. The film is ostensibly based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet. However, Almodóvar, who usually writes his own screenplays, has utterly customised his source material. The result is one of his richest and strangest films.

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