KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2011:
The New Almodóvar warns against superficial attractiveness and obsession with science
6. 7. 2011 / Ema Čulík
Almodovar's latest offering is a hilarious pseudo-Romantic semi-sci-fi melodrama.
We have come to expect from Almodovar something colourful and heartfelt which is always joyful and usually slightly ridiculous. His films are so utterly sumptuous, they are a delight just to look at. Compositionally, they are extremely pleasing, not to mention his love for the most beautiful (as well as talented) actors.
However, his films always have a more serious undercurrent -- Catholic priests abusing their power, AIDS, domestic abuse. This year's The Skin I Live In seems, at first glance, to be an utterly unrealistic aesthetic delight in medical supplies, light green scrubs and bright red blood, silver instruments and white gleaming ceramic tiles, which then develops into a story-line most soap operas wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. But in Almodovar, amongst all the silliness, there is still a warning to be found.
The Skin I Live In is set in the near future, February 2012, and tells the story of a gifted plastic surgeon, Robert Ledgard, whose talent and daring drive him to experiment with cosmetic and genetic science. He is rich, famous and successful, but his family life is less rosy. His wife runs off with his secret half brother (!) and is burnt to a crisp in a car crash. Robert uses his extraordinary medical talent to bring her back from the brink of death, but the skin all over her body is so marred that on glimpsing her reflection in a window, the poor woman throws herself to her death.
This is witnessed by her daughter, who is left desperately traumatised and is institutionalised. The first time she leaves the hospital to socialise, at a lavish wedding, she is raped by a drugged up youth and loses her mind altogether, eventually joins her mother by throwing herself from her window. Robert, of course, is beside himself with grief and rage and tracks down the careless youth, kidnaps him, and exacts his twisted revenge by turning him into a woman.
And not only that, but the most beautiful woman with super-human mosquito and burn-resistant skin. She/He lives locked in a room in Robert's house, reading, making statues, writing on the wall and doing yoga. Eventually he/she seduces Robert and they promise fidelity to each other, just before he/she puts several bullets in Robert's chest and runs back to his/her family, who, incredibly, believe that this woman is their former Vicente. As you can see, the plot is rather amazing. And I haven't even mentioned all the details. Slightly dubious though the storyline may seem, it is executed with such empathy and heartfelt passion that the characters completely come alive.
Almodovar has a fabulous eye for detail and a vibrant love of kitsch. This allows him to tell a wild story without it alienating the viewer.
In 2002 Almodovar used his famous rubber woman doll to tell the story of a man in love with a woman in a coma. He shrinks to an inch tall and climbs inside her vagina. In this film, the woman is again reduced to a prosthetic form. When the young rapist hits Robert's daughter and knocks her out, he moves the parts of her body like a doll. Seeing the female form through the eyes of a gay man reduces it to anatomical bits and bobs. Especially as we know that Robert's creation (Vera made from Vicente) is a female only in appearance. Or is she? Once again Almodovar asks the question, what is the real difference between the sexes? His character Robert says at the beginning of the film, "The face defines us". And so by altering Vicente's body, has he effectively killed his personality? The young man (now woman) hence takes refuge in yoga, which he learns is a way of strengthening his (her??!) inner life. Since he manages to vanquish his torturer in the end and return to his family, surely this bizarre tale is like a story of the power of the spirit to survive any attempt to squash humanity.
As Almodovar celebrates the spirit, he also examines our own attitude to the flesh. We are so fascinated with it nowadays and the camera lingers on the body of Robert's living puppet Vera, on her digitally perfected skin. In a world where we see false beauty in every magazine, plastic surgery shocks no one and human cloning is a very real possibility, this film serves as a warning of what can happen if we do forget our own humanity. Robert falls in love with the rapist who eventually brought about his own daughter's death, and doesn't think twice. Is he in love with her beauty or with the fact that she is his own creation? Either way it is frightening -- either superficial attractiveness or an obsession with science blind him to love and even the most basic moral instinct.Vytisknout
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