The Skin I Live In ★★★

Alternating between thriller, drama, and horror, "The Skin I Live In" defies easy categorization. Furthermore, wrapping one’s head around the film requires some effort, and even then it takes a while to arrive at a firm opinion on the picture. The movie feels rather cold and clinical, which is certainly contextually appropriate, but it creates a certain emotional distance between the viewer and the characters and events on the screen.

I really like the structure and unpredictability of the plot, which kept me engaged and guessing how the story would develop. The carefully constructed narrative jumps back and forth in time, building suspense and slowly but surely revealing its secrets. Elements of absurdity spice up the proceedings; moments of humor provide a little relief from the tension. The change of protagonist that occurs in the latter part of the movie comes unexpectedly and is very well executed.

Writer/director Pedro Almodóvar fails to make the film as thought-provoking as he probably wants it to be. Themes such as identity, revenge, and ethically questionable science are no doubt interesting, but the movie brings little new to the table. Also, the mixing of genres lessens the picture’s thematic resonance.

In terms of style and production value, "The Skin I Live In" has a lot to offer. The production design is excellent. Cinematographer José Luis Alcaine’s work results in rich, beautifully crisp visuals. Alberto Iglesias’s suggestive, mood-enhancing music goes hand in hand with the imagery.

As Robert Ledgard, Antonio Banderas turns in a solid, nicely balanced performance; his character is professional and businessman-like in most everything he does, whether it is speaking at a medical conference or kidnapping and doing terrible things to someone. Elena Anaya and Marisa Paredes play Vera Cruz and Marilia, respectively, with aplomb. Jan Cornet’s fine turn as Vicente makes the viewer sympathize with the character. In the process of emphasizing Zeca’s odd behavior, Roberto Álamo goes a bit over the top with his acting.