Lita On Film

Posts Tagged ‘pedro almodovar’

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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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!

This Week’s Netflix Recommendations

In Netflix Recommendations on August 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm

1.  Winter’s Bone

Director Debra Granik’s tour-de-force drama about a teenage girl in the desolate Ozarks is nothing less than mesmerizing (see my full review here!).  Star Jennifer Lawrence and her young co-stars do an excellent job of naturalistic acting, and the film’s atmosphere feels authentic to a fault.  John Hawkes is unrecognizable as Lawrence’s volatile uncle, who reluctantly agrees to help her track down her no-good father before the family loses its home.  A must see!  Currently available on Netflix streaming.

2. Tie me up!  Tie me down!

This very sexy early Almodovar film has it all: tension, drama, comedy, and lots of sex.  Did I mention it’s full of sex?  Antonio Banderas stars as an escaped mental patient who takes a former porn queen hostage in her home and tries to get her to fall in love with him.  While clearly not a paragon of feminist ideals, as with everything from Almodovar, it’s definitely worth seeing.  Currently available on Netflix streaming.

3.  Don Juan DeMarco

This rom-com is as fluffy as they come, almost–Johnny Depp stars as a young man convinced he isn’t just a Brooklyn drifter, but actually the world’s greatest lover, a Mexican Casanova trained in the arts of lovemaking, sword fighting, and general swashbuckling.  An aging Marlon Brando is assigned as Depp’s psychiatrist, and the two forge an unlikely connection that turns out to save both of them from the brink of despair.  With Faye Dunaway as Brando’s wife.  Delightful!  Currently available on Netflix streaming.