Antonio Banderas has become little more than an exotic sexpot for middle-aged suburban women living out a delusional Melanie Griffith fantasy of the Latin lover who’ll stick around no matter how bloated and distended they become. Yet one person who doesn’t find Banderas particularly exotic, though may agree he’s suburban lunchmeat is Spanish director Pedro Almovodor. Almovodor gave Banderas his big break, thrusting him into five of his early films during the 80’s, joyfully casting him against type, culminating in 1990’s slightly demented Tie Me Up Tie Me Down.
In his best move since landing in Hollywood Banderas has returned to Spain. But more importantly to Almovodor, for a woozy sexually transgressive Frankenstein’s monster pic The Skin I Live In (Transmission) that is part over the top soap opera and part clinical revenge film.
Banderas plays Dr Robert Ledgard a brilliant plastic surgeon/ mad scientist, experimenting on the impossibly gorgeous Vera (Elena Anaya) whom he observes under lock and key in his isolated mansion. He’s driven by personal tragedy, consumed by his work, letting nothing, including morality get in the way. He’s the kind of man who’d have a special well-organised stainless steel fridge to keep his stool samples in and then notate obsessively about their size and consistency. Creepy, but he creeps clinically and with style.
The Skin I Live In is a celebration of Almovodor’s considerable powers; it’s sleek and minimal, wilfully perverse, unflinchingly provocative and very very clever. The first act is Hitcockian in its setup, subtly luring the viewer in until they’re equally complicit in Ledgard’s voyeurism of Vera. He then inverts the universe, turning the tables savagely, whilst raising questions of identity, sexuality, power and submission, you know, the usual hysterical Almovodor obsessions. The Skin I Live In draws on everything from Douglas Sirk’s Interlude to Frankenstein’s Monster with a hint of Cronenberg, but really it just reeks of Almovodor and to be fair that’s the highest compliment one can give.
Well let’s just say that Alyce (Accent) is a little unstable. During a self-conscious drug and alcohol fuelled night out, her only friend reflects, ‘remember when you used to dress like me? That was a little creepy.” But that’s not half of it, and it barely rates a mention in the creep stakes, compared to say erotically stroking a dead body at a funeral, chucking a human arm that you’ve just hacked off in the microwave to make it softer and easier to strip off the flesh, or squeezing the back acne of a body builder who is attempting to mount you. As a motif back acne is surprisingly potent in a confused film that for the most part is barely a step above a student flick, that is until the blood starts to flow. There’s nothing like a spot of bloodletting to get your bearings. Whilst slicing and dicing filmmaker Jay Lee finds his film, developing it into a freewheeling self assured descent into madness, brimming with tongue in cheek set ups, or perhaps tongue on linoleum setups and a quirky kind of gallows humour that is impossible not to be swept up in.