In the operatically pervy The Skin I Live In, Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a wealthy plastic surgeon living in a sealed-off estate in Spain. Ledgard embodies what professors call “the privileged male gaze,” taking his private privilege in his bedroom, where he puffs a little after-work opium.
With high-def cameras, he studies a captive woman named Vera (Elena Anaya). The doctor is advancing on synthetic skin to aid his m–tier, face transplantation. He describes one such operation as “the most moving experience of my life,” though his short-sighted colleagues shun his methods. With the return of a figure from the doctor’s past (Roberto çlamo as Zeca, a hugely muscled criminal in a tiger costume), we learn that Ledgard was once a married man whose family was destroyed under alarming circumstances.
This is Pedro Almodovar’s 20th film and likely his craziest, with a soap-opera plot of rapine and revenge that’s as togged as the Gaultier clothes the cast flaunts. After beautifully turned but valedictorian work such as Broken Embraces, Almodovar goes down and dirty here, visiting the other side of cinema. With beauty and wit, Almodovar brings the dungeon melodrama back to a cinema that’s degraded it, made it gory and annoyingly moralizing. The basic humanity of the film isn’t in doubt, and viewers can find a pal in Marilia (Marisa Paredes), the salt-of-the-earth, Thelma Ritter–style housekeeper.
The Skin I Live In reconciles mad passions with happy endings, and one of the happy must be Banderas. Loved and sadly typecast in rich-Corinthian-accent parts, Banderas shows what a performer he is in his native language. Banderas, as an actor, is a major critic of the interior contradictions and madness of machismo. Naturally, he’s a convincing madman, playing his part as coolly sane as he can. This reunion was a blessing for both director and star, and the audience couldn’t ask for a richer, stranger autumn film.
‘The Skin I Live In’ opens Friday, Nov. 11, at Summerfield Cinemas.