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.

Lost to Lost (2004 – 2010)

Lost season one

I never watched Lost when it was running on the telly. I watched the ‘pilot’ episode and saw that the survivors of the plane crash were on an island and they were, for the most part, immaculate. That sort of put me right out of the moment.

A couple of critics mentioned the “unreality” of the series and I just ‘lost’ interest before the series got started. I did catch the odd program now and then, usually when I was channel hopping, but it never really caught my interest for very long. I also tuned in for the ‘big finish’ but I really couldn’t tell you what it entailed or why everyone was so miffed at the ending.

Just recently, after reading a few articles on the web, my daughter’s and my interest was piqued enough about the long running show to watch a few episodes via a rental shop, but never got around to watching any of the episodes.

Then Netflix added them and we decided to take a break from our ritualistic viewing of Come Dine With Me and watch season one.

We were  hooked from episode one of season one.

Watching the show now, I cannot help but wonder, what the hell was I thinking? The show is, quite simply, amazing. The creators managed to create a verse where rules were not only broken, but re-written as well. The Lost ‘verse’ is a serendipitous maze where everyone, it seems, on the island have crossed paths and interacted with their fellow ‘inmates’ well before their incarceration on the island.

I don’t know why I was so against watching the show when it first came out in 2004 or why I shunned it afterwards. I only know that if I had watched it during it’s initial run, it would have driven me crazy waiting for the next episode and what questions and answers it would bring.

It appears that J.J. Abrams and co. captured that elusive ‘lightning in a bottle’ that so many film and television creators dream of but never find. I can’t think of many television programs that have managed to so effectively and regularly knock the metaphorical ball out of the park  on a regular basis.

Dallas may fall in this category, the lightning in a bottle category, as it was wildly popular in much the same way as Lost. And even though the stories and plot devices for each show was different they do both boil down to the same type of show.

Soap opera.

Not the simple everyday Soaps like As the World Turns, All my Children, or The Days of our Lives, but a sort of Grand Guignol version of a soap opera. Dallas was definitely a soap opera for everyone, not just bored housewives or unemployed members of society trying to escape for a couple of hours each day. Dallas was soap opera for the masses.

And so was Lost.

I can only shake my head in amazement and confusion at my stubborn refusal to watch the show when it originally aired from 2004 to 2010. My biorhythms must have been completely out of whack. But thanks to Netflix, my daughter and I can get caught up in the trials and tribulations of Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Locke, and all the others on their voyage on the island.

They are like a twisted version of Gilligan’s Island. With Hurley as the mega-rich Mr Howell. Jack could be the professor, but I’m still working on who the others would be in this allegorical mishmash idea. So I’ll continue to watch and marvel at the wonders that Lost brings to the viewing table.

I guess in a way, I’m glad I didn’t watch Lost during it’s heyday, waiting anxiously each week for the next episode.

The suspense would have killed me.