Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘NYFF’

The Skin I Live In – NYFF 2011

In Film Reviews on October 14, 2011 at 1:00 am

Pedro Almodovar is known for many things: his incredible sense of humor, affection for his characters, and knack for making circuitous, complicated narratives compelling and satisfying. One thing he’s less known for is freaking people out, and that’s exactly what he sets out to do in his latest effort, “The Skin I Live In.”

Apparently, it all started last year at a press conference at which Almodovar stated that he was suddenly interested in making a horror film. Many cognoscenti expressed shock at this but, if you think about it, there are many horrific vignettes in some of Almodovar’s best and most respected work: the birth scene at the beginning of “All About My Mother,” the murder in “Volver,” practically everything in “Talk To Her.” And “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!,” Almodovar’s last collaboration with Antonio Banderas before “Skin,” was hardly a parable of everyday domestic bliss.

This time, Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a world famous plastic surgeon whose wife was horribly burned in a car accident, and threw herself out a window to her death after seeing her own reflection. Because of this experience, the doctor has become obsessed with synthesizing a better version of human skin that is stronger, softer and more resilient than the real thing (a description that could be applied to many of Almodovar’s characters, incidentally). To this end, he kidnaps a “patient” and grafts this new skin onto her while keeping her imprisoned in his villa. Of course, the doctor’s obsession extends beyond his patient’s skin itself, and the characters become entangled in a web of power plays and deceit that wouldn’t be out of place in 19th-century opera. Did I mention there’s a character who appears only in a tiger costume?

Post-transformation, the captive is played by Elena Anaya, whose model-like body frequently takes up almost the entire screen (yet is surprisingly tiny in person; she was dwarfed by Banderas as the press conference, despite her gigantic sparkly heels). Unusually for him, in “Skin” Almodovar is interested in the (ostensibly) female body primarily as a spectacle, an object to be beheld and played with, rather than the embodiment of a character’s soul. There is much window-dressing, in the form of framing, special effects and costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier, but the characters themselves are pretty one-dimensional. This is disappointing, as Almodovar’s characters are usually deep and vivacious, especially his women. Having them reduced to pieces in a narrative puzzle makes it hard to work up the enthusiasm that the frenzied narrative is clearly trying to create.

Once everything comes together at the end of the film, the effect is somewhat less satisfying than what I’d hoped; the film is strangely cold and clinical, and lacks the warmth and humanity that I associate with Almodovar. Though there are echoes of everything from “Eyes Without A Face” and “Frankenstein” to Buñuel and Cronenberg, “Skin” isn’t as creepy as it sets out to be, and isn’t as compelling either. Though it’s certainly recognizable as an Almodovarian narrative, it feels a bit like he’s just going through the motions.

Banderas, Anaya, Almodovar and the Film Society's Richard Peña at the NYFF press conference


© Lita Robinson 2011

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Shame – NYFF 2011

In Film Reviews on October 14, 2011 at 12:39 am

Steve McQueen’s second feature reprises his collaboration with “Hunger” star Michael Fassbender, and the effect is no less spellbinding. This time, instead of starving for a cause, Fassbender plays a man at the mercy of his urges rather than in control of them: a sex addict.

In the frenetic world of New York City, it’s easy for Fassbender’s Brandon to keep his private life a secret. When a vat of pornography is discovered on his work computer, his boss doesn’t even suspect him and automatically blames an intern. Brandon has a corporate job, no friends, no family and an apartment that can only be described as antiseptic. He lives to indulge his fantasies, flirting with strangers on the subway and participating in live-action internet porn. However, McQueen doesn’t regard Brandon as demented or soulless; just the opposite, he seems to be a romantic at heart, just too screwed up to act like one.

Enter Brandon’s sister (Carey Mulligan) appropriately called Sissy, a hot mess of a singer who’s run out of places to stay. Her arrival disrupts everything Brandon has worked to solidify in his life—suddenly his apartment is dirty, his secrets are spilling out, and he’s forced to interact intimately with another human being. Sissy alludes to their shared upbringing (in Ireland, to explain the accents) without ever giving any details, but it’s clear that she’s just as damaged is he is. She also proves adept at sleeping around and being generally self destructive, which worries Brandon, but not enough to keep him from kicking her out. Several scenes hint at the possibility of incest in Brandon and Sissy’s past and, though this is never fleshed out (and McQueen wouldn’t elaborate during the press conference), there’s a queasiness to their relationship that adds even more tension to the already crackling narrative.

Eventually, after a disastrous attempt at starting a real relationship (with the excellent Nichole Beharie), Brandon is forced to confront his inability to relate to other people unless he’s paying them for sex. This really is the crux of the film, despite its already infamous smorgasbord of nudity and copulation. Brandon craves a release from his inner emptiness, but is unable to form a real relationship with anyone, so meaningless sex is the best he can do. It’s only through catastrophe that he and Sissy are able to break through their mutual alienation and begin the process of becoming normal.

McQueen’s direction is mature and sincere; he doesn’t patronize his characters or his audience, and handles his salacious subject in a completely matter-of-fact way. Fassbender is stoically mesmerizing, and doesn’t become any less credible when his facade finally cracks. Mulligan is, as usual, deceptively mature in her performance; whereas another, lesser starlet could easily cheapen the film by being histrionic, Mulligan manages to convey confusion and desperation in a way that feels raw and uncontrived. Though it’s anything but family friendly (read: do not take your parents!), this is one film every cinephile should put on their must-see list. Let the Oscar buzz begin.

© Lita Robinson 2011

David Cronenberg talks “A Dangerous Method” at NYFF

In Film News on October 6, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Check out this video that I shot on my iPhone last night at the gala premiere of David Cronenberg’s new film “A Dangerous Method”!

NYFF 2011

In Film News on September 28, 2011 at 1:08 pm

The 49th New York Film Festival has kicked off–or at least it has for those of us with press passes!

If you want to start your Oscar predictions, this is the festival to pay attention to.  Buzz is already circulating about Michael Fassbender, who stars in Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”; Keira Knightley in “Method”; everybody in Polanski’s “Carnage,” and even Antonio Banderas as a creepy surgeon in Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In.”

Stay tuned to LitaOnFilm as I bring you reviews of some of the most anticipated films of the year from giants like Polanski, Cronenberg, Almodovar, and more!  And if you’re in town, stop by for a screening or two; the Film Society has wonderful screening venues, and is next door to the Met, the NYC Ballet and Juillliard–the heart of fine art and entertainment in New York City!