The Skin I Live In (2011): Revenge Eaten Cold


Directed by Pedro Almodóvar this 2011 film is an adaptation of Thierry Jonquet‘s novel Mygale (published as Tarantula in English) *information courtesy of Wikipedia* and is about tragic death, madness and revenge.

Almodóvar first read the book ten years before the film was made and he was impressed by  “the magnitude of Doctor Ledgard’s vendetta*information courtesy of Wikipedia* and that is what he made the focus of the film.

The plot revolves around plastic surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard. At the beginning of the film he is experimenting with developing a “tougher” artificial skin that is impervious to insect bites and burning. He gives a presentation to a medical symposium and states that he is experimenting on athymic mice but later reveals that he is using human subjects as well. This admission results in his being denied permission to continue his work.

Ledgard is quite obviously extremely wealthy as his house also has a modern operating theatre as well as other high-tech medical facilities. He keeps a young woman in a room that he watches via CCTV and she is obviously being “treated” with the new tougher skin. It becomes apparent that he is obsessed with his patient, who wears an all-in-one protective “second skin” and practises yoga and some sort of fashion art.

Home chemistry with style.
Home chemistry with style.

As the film progresses, we learn more about the doctor, his staff and his circumstances. His first wife was horribly disfigured and almost died as the result of burns sustained in a car accident. As her health improves she hears their daughter singing in the garden, she gets up from her sickbed and goes to the window to observe the girl singing. Opening the curtain allows her to see her own reflection in the glass; it is that of a monster. Screaming, she flings herself from the window; landing at her daughter’s feet.

A few short years later the daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez) meets a young man who has “gate crashed” a party she is attending. The gate crasher is Vicente (Jan Cornet) and the two young people hook up. While they are headed to the gardens of the house, Vicente reveals he is high on pills and asks Norma if she takes pills. Her reply, in its innocence, shows how deeply her mother’s suicide and death at her feet has affected her. The girl is on a cocktail of drugs and is obviously a mental wreck.

A short time later the sexually aroused Vicente starts having sex with a dazed Norma, when the song that she sung when her mother killed herself is heard. She starts to panic and begins fighting Vicente and screaming. He panics and strikes her several times till she passes out. Quickly he adjusts her clothing and leaves. Ledgard goes searching for Norma and finds her unconscious. As he is bringing her around, it is apparent that she thinks he raped her.

Years of therapy commence, but, ultimately she has been damaged beyond repair and suffers her mother’s fate. Meanwhile, Ledgard searches for and finds her “attacker” from the party.

Throughout the film we learn more about Ledgard and the young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya); his housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes) and their connections and the tragedies that intertwine their fates.

This film, if not done correctly, could have come off as a Soap Opera with wild tangents of plot running throughout. Watching the movie is like listening to a concerto being performed by drugged artistes who, despite their narcotised state, evoke deep dark emotions of brilliance. Despite the overall theme of retribution and tragedy, the film appears to really be about madness and obsession.

Zeca leaves no doubt as to his intentions for Vera.

On a side note here, Roberto Álamo as Robert’s half-brother Zeca, provides a short hideous comic turn as the criminal who thinks that Vera is Robert’s dead wife resurrected (Ledgard has performed surgery on her to make her resemble his dead wife) and in a suspenseful build up, he rapes Vera and dies for his effort.

Almodóvar specializes in these types of “off-kilter” films that are filled with odd and flawed characters and he does it well. The film never fails to mesmerize nor does it disappoint in plot; a plot that, despite its convoluted nature, is easy enough to follow and is impressive in its depth and scope.

The score, provided by Alberto Iglesias moves the film along well and is almost like a second skin to the events that are taking place on the screen. The movie had an estimated budget of 13 million dollars and had a box office return of over 30 million dollars. Not quite a “runaway” success, but one that shows the film was well received.

A brilliant tour de force of off-kilter characters that are all the helpless flotsam and jetsam of fate’s cruelty and worth every second spent watching it.

Vicente just beginning his penance.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

10 thoughts on “The Skin I Live In (2011): Revenge Eaten Cold”

  1. This is one film that really sticks in the mind after watching it. Probably one of the most unusual revenge thrillers, and I think you could label it that, there is 😛

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  2. Nice one Mike. I loved this movie and it been one of the very best over the last few years. I’m a big fan of Almodovar and I’d go as far to say that this is my favourite of his.

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