120 minutes

You might be in for quite a shock when faced against the "new Almodóvar" - if you are expecting yet another exquisitely handled, quirky, heart-warming melodrama of love and friendship, that's what not what La Piel que Habito is. Thankfully - as after the baroque back-and-forths of the masterful La Mala Educación (Bad Education), the Spanish director had turned the auto-pilot on and coasted on his not inconsiderate reputation for a while. La Piel que Habito is a throwback to earlier, edgier works such as Matador and La Ley del Deseo (Law of Desire), with added virtuosity and a darker, more cruel streak; an over-egged pudding best described as a Cronenbergian study in perversity, part Frankenstein part The Island of Dr. Moreau.

     For this adaptation of French writer Thierry Jonquet's mystery novel Mygale (translated into many languages as Tarantula), Mr. Almodóvar reconnects with the actor he helped turn into a star in his mid-1980s films, Antonio Banderas, placing him at the centre of his spooky tale. Mr. Banderas, suave and effortlessly cruel, plays renowned plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard, opposite the ravishing Elena Anaya as the mysterious, perfect woman he maintains in a gilded captivity in his out-of-town clinic, whose origin is known only to him. As the director unwinds the strands of his exotic tale, La Piel que Habito moves from futuristic sci-fi overtones into an gothic revenge thriller involving the surgeon's half-brother, his long-time housekeeper, his late wife and daughter and a young man unfortunately caught in the twists and turns of this meditation on obsession and perfection, all of it shaken and stirred in the mixer of Mr. Almodóvar's cinephile sensibility.

     The result is the director's most openly formalist picture, exquisitely photographed and edited by regular accomplices José Luis Alcaine and José Salcedo, controlled to within an inch of its life - and, maybe precisely because of that, as airless and obsessed with its own visuals as Ledgard is with creating the perfect skin for his mysterious guest/prisoner. It is almost as if Mr. Almodóvar had allowed himself to be led astray by the dazzling perfection of the image he is seeking, but forgot to let some air into this impeccable designer home to make it cosy and accessible. La Piel que Habito is a superb formal achievement, but one that arrives at the expense of the director's usual quirkiness, here reduced to a minimum; ironically, despite the madness that permeates it, it's a far too sage film. Still, it's good to see Mr. Almodóvar taking risks again, and especially in such a sumptuous, masterly way.

Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Eduard Fernández, José Luis Gómez.
     Directed by Pedro Almodóvar; produced by Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García; screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar and Agustín Almodóvar, based on the novel by Thierry Jonquet, Tarantula; music by Alberto Iglesias; director of photography (colour by Fotofilm Deluxe), José Luis Alcaine; art director, Antxon Gómez; costume designers, Paco Delgado, Jean-Paul Gaultier; film editor, José Salcedo.
     An El Deseo presentation/production, in association with Blue Lake Entertainment, Filmnation Entertainment; with support from the Spanish Institute for Cinema and the Audiovisual Arts; with funding from the Spanish Official Credit Institute; with the participation of TVE, Canal Plus Spain and the Galician and Castille-La Mancha regions. (World sales, Filmnation Entertainment.)
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), November 9th 2011. 


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