If there’s something that defines us easily, at least superficially, it’s our sex. It is not difficult to imagine that it’s our sex that controls and determines majority of our behavioral patterns. In that sense, our sex is a primary facet of our identity. And that’s why the concept of blurring the line between the genders is not only intriguing, but is also intellectual. Pedro Almodovar uses this as a central thread to bind the sprawling narrative in his latest movie, The Skin I Live In.
Most of the movies reveal about themselves a fair bit through their trailers and plot synopsis. Expecting the same from The Skin I Live In would be expecting a lot. Because most of the movies, no matter how accomplished, can be slotted into one category or the other – a revenge saga, love story, a movie about obsession. etc. The Skin I Live In, is bizarrely about all of these. The genre-bending aspect of the movie is not the only fascinating thing about it, but also how Almodovar seamlessly manages to enmesh the various genres.
The movie opens to Robert (played brilliantly by Antonio Banderas. Almodovar always manages to get the best from Banderas), a surgeon, obsessing over a perfect skin for his patient. A skin that would be resistant to burns, cuts, or damages of any sort. (Vera, played by Elena Anaya, owns that skin). The first twenty-five minutes concentrates a lot on Robert’s medical procedures, and it starts getting tiresome after a while. After a point, you start wondering, why does Almodovar want to make a genre movie? Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with making genre movies, it’s just that the levels of expectations from an Almodovar movie is wildly different. But a couple of scenes later, the movie gathers steam via a gripping back-story. We learn that six years back, Robert’s daughter, Nora, was raped by a twenty-seven year old, Vincenti. He plans to leave the town but is soon kidnapped. It’s not that difficult to guess who would have orchestrated the kidnapping. What follows from here on is something that’s far too common to Korean movies – fixation on exacting revenge. But where Almodovar differs from the Korean auteurs is not in the means, but in the ends. Here, unlike the Koreans, Almodovar is not merely interested in the revenge, and therefore, the movie does not conclude with its culmination.
What follows after that is a twist that is, to put it mildly, difficult to digest. Many viewers will even find it repulsive, and even I have a different moral stand on the movie’s twist, but it did not deter me from enjoying the movie. In fact, the movie’s a notch or two above just for its ingenious final twist. It is so bizarre and disturbing that it needed someone like Almodovar to make a movie on it. The movie stands victorious just on the basis of themes it dares to dabble.
The moral ambiguity of the characters (something Almodovar is adept at) elevates the movie to a different level. You sympathize with one character at one moment, and some scenes later you despise the same character. Almodovar does not allow us to be tethered to any one character, and controls the strings at all the time, like a proud author. Also when the movie ends, there are no good characters and bad characters, only good choices and bad choices (even strange choices). So life-like. Although interestingly, this movie is a lot less melodramatic as compared to Almodovar’s previous works. Also given how characters’ choices are so drastic (and so difficult to identify with), there is no real moment of truth to any of the characters. The movie could have been bound more coherently with some more intense scenes.
But despite its admirable audacity, the movie ends hastily. In the last ten minutes, Almodovar lazily and perfunctorily tries to tie every plot point in the movie. And it’s a real shame, because the movie does not warrant those hurried moments. The movie should have ended a lot more ambiguously. But even that does not discount the fact that the movie is gloriously inventive and unabashedly bold. Which makes it one of the most important movie in Almodovar’s oeuvre. And that is no insignificant achievement.