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Borden, D.M. (2012). The Skin I Live In directed by Pedro Almodovar El Deseo, 2011, 120 min.. Fort Da, 18(2):96-102.

(2012). Fort Da, 18(2):96-102

The Skin I Live In directed by Pedro Almodovar El Deseo, 2011, 120 min.

Review by:
Diane M. Borden, Ph.D.

Seamless Cutting: Perverse Mourning in Almodovar's the Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In, Almodovar's most recent film (2011), mesmerizes and seduces, even as it horrifies. As film, technically elegant and visually exquisite, the psychological content of capture, captivity, and castration disturbs and repels. We barely recognize the old, charming Almodovarian world of melodramatic farce and queer sensibility. Adapted from Thierry Jonquet's one-dimensional revenge novel, Tarantula (2002), Almodovar infuses into the film a complex back story of traumatic events, fragmented memory, and failed mourning — all emerging from a tragic (one might say a “classically tragic”) family romance. The foregrounded story of the film concerns a successful cosmetic surgeon, Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), who does a series of plastic surgery operations, of skin and body sculpture, on an extraordinarily beautiful woman, Vera Cruz (Elena Alaya). But all is not what it seems.

We might ask who does the “I” in the title of the film refer to? Certainly Vera's point of view, as she lives in her new skin, dramatizes her need both to defer to and flee from her captor. At the same time, Robert lives in the new skin he creates, cuts, molds, and converts to human form, as a master surgeon, an artist of his craft. But the I can also be identified as the director of the film, who, in the shared discourses of both cinema and surgery, cuts, sutures, provides continuity, and creates aesthetic form. Amidst the elements of skin and subjectivity lives psychic trauma, wherein all three agents — patient, surgeon, director — need to restore lost objects, to repair damage, to make perfect what has been monstrous.

Almodovar, in his multitasking narrative, evidently wants to restore not only the lost object/s to broken lives, but also, through art, to make reparation — make seamless what has been ruptured.

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