Last night, I attended the exclusive UK premiere of Pedro Almodóvar's Palme d'Or nominee The Skin I Live In (2011), which also launched this year's Film4 Summer Screen season at Somerset House. With an introduction from Almodóvar himself and the film's stunning female lead Elena Anaya, and with high profile industry guests including British filmmaker Mike Leigh, the stage was set for an evening of cinematic delight.
Fortunately, the selection of The Skin I Live In as Film4 Summer Screen's opening film proved to be an astute choice. Part-psychological thriller, part-melodrama and part-body horror, Almodóvar's 18th feature is perhaps the director's most thematically pure, a clinical dissection and consequent post-mortem of his own fascination with the disintegration of gender, the elegance (and repulsive) nature of humankind and bodily transformation.
Toledo, 2012: based upon Thierry Jonquet's 2003 novel Tarantula, The Skin I Live In begins with a failed suicide attempt by Vera (Elena Anaya), the beautiful test subject of brilliant plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas). The guinea pig for Robert's revolutionary new synthetic skin nicknamed 'Gal' (an unnaturally strong and durable epidermis produced through highly controversial transgenesis experimentation), Vera spends her time in isolation practicing yoga and reading, watched on through a giant CCTV by her captor. However, the introduction of the bestial Zeca (Roberto Álamo), a deranged bank-robbing fugitive in a tiger suit (stay with it) sets in motion a sequence of horrific events -both past and present - that threaten to disrupt the Robert's master plan.
The first collaboration between Almodóvar and his onetime prodigy Banderas, The Skin I Live In is definitive proof (if proof be needed) of the Spanish actor's incredible ability. His portrayal of Robert as a sympathetic, modern day Frankenstein figure successfully moves away from the tired cliché of the 'mad scientist', instead providing the audience with a genuinely complex and conflicting human being. Elena Anaya is also superb as the enigmatic Vera, providing one of modern cinemas finest explorations and depictions of Stockholm syndrome. Fine support also comes from Almodóvar regular Marisa Paredes and Roberto Álamo.
Visually, with The Skin I Live In Almodóvar is perhaps now at the top of his game as an auteur, with his now famous Lorca-influenced palette of fiery promethean reds and yellows now opposed by the neutral grey tones of Robert's numerous sterile laboratories. The film was also to be Almodóvar's first feature in black and white - a concept that was later rejected - but his tight framing and sweeping camerawork still bring to mind the classic, iconic style of film noir.
You could very easily write an entire book on The Skin I Live In (and critics surely will in the near future), but I feel I should resist disclosing anymore details about the film ahead of its late August UK release. Needless to say, The Skin I Live In is right up there with Pedro Almodóvar's finest work, and is therefore by rights one of the finest examples of purely cinematic European filmmaking you will see this year or any other.
The Skin I Live In is released in UK cinemas on 26 August 2011.