Friday, September 09, 2011

George Ghon comments on THE SKIN I LIVE IN

Art keeps you free.
George Ghon, fashion writer, stylist, editor of ALPHA magazine, and cinephile, comments on THE SKIN I LIVE IN.......

Pedro Almodóvar’s THE SKIN I LIVE IN is a multi-faceted film, an experiment that combines the tradition of Greek drama with a modern, slightly surreal medical thriller. The central character, a brilliant Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard, is the contemporary equivalent to a doomed ancient king. He attempts to transcend his own human powers, plays god, and is bitterly punished for his hubris. He is an enormously talented surgeon that has pushed the boundaries in transplantology, scion of a wealthy family, and yet, his life is not a happy game. He tried to save his wife after she burned in a car crash, on the run with her lover. He tried to save his daughter, after the fragile girl got abused and raped in the scenic setting of a lush garden party. Both those women, for whom he had so much affection, took their own lives and found a sudden, unexpected death when jumping out through an open window. These bitter experiences, as well as his talent and money, make for an ambivalent character. On one hand brutal and powerful, but at the same time sensitive and almost loveable in his passion.

He finds his victim and, like Pygmalion, uses his skill to shape it into his perfect partner. In Ovid’s metamorphoses Venus grants the sculptor’s wish and the ivory statue becomes alive. In the Spanish town of Toledo, set in the year 2012, the surgeon also hopes for divine intervention. From the wall of his staircase lurks an oversized Venus d’Urbino, the renaissance painting originally conceived by Titian. It can (re-) ignite love and passion in its spectators, but it has also been seen as marriage picture, as object that was deliberately made to affirm and save the relationship of a couple. 

None other than recreating his lost love is Robert’s aim. But he reverts to dubious practises in order to achieve his goal, and fails miserably in the end. During the opening shots, we can see a beautiful, slightly androgynous girl practising Yoga in a locked room (Elena Anaya as Vera). Guarding her perfect body in a tightly fitted suit, she is completely shut off from the outside world. The only solace she can find, except from physical workout, is engaging with the art of Louise Bourgeois, which she learns through books coming up in a little elevator. She tears apart swatches of fabric and re-uses them to form little sculptures. 

First this seems unusual, but not utterly bizarre. Yet. The real story we only learn later in the film. It then becomes clear that Vera is searching for a new identity and delves into sculpture to overcome an existential angst that results from traumatic surgery. She is Robert’s chosen one, the one he experiments on and tries to find love for. By and by, she comes to terms with her fate and accepts the lover’s role, before finally encountering a reawakening reminder of her past. 

This movie deals with the big themes of classic tragedy, with love, loss, and redemption. Shot in beautiful locations and executed with superb cinematography, it is a feast for aesthetes. But the picture goes deeper than just touching the beautiful surface of things. It deals with the skin of bodies, but also affects the lives beneath it. There is a lot to consider about this new Almodóvar, no matter that the story might have its flaws. 

THE SKIN I LIVE IN played Cannes 2011 and was released in August in France, Ireland and the UK. It was released earlier this month in Spain, and is released today in the Czech Republic and Hungary. It played Toronto 2011 next week and opens in Russia and Poland. It opens on September 23rd in Argentina and Italy. It opens in Brazil and the US on October 14th and in Germany on October 20th. It opens in Hong Kong and Sweden on December 2nd.

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