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DVD Review: ‘The Skin I Live In’

★★★★★

The Skin I Live In gets better every time you watch it, and that’s the very least you can expect from one of 2011’s finest (and most surprising) films. Pedro Almodóvar’s psychosexual thriller opens with obsessive plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a widower besotted with the idea of creating an indestructible human skin – the kind that could have saved his wife from burning to death in a car accident.

Fusing together human and pig cells, Ledgard doesn’t seem to care about breaking science’s code of ethics. He certainly doesn’t think twice about holding Vera (Elena Anaya) hostage in his house and using her as a guinea pig. As his experiments unfold, Almodóvar’s drama takes a sudden turn for the twisted. Dropping in the occasional gunshot or a man dressed as a tiger, it seems at first like a typically bizarre affair of warped gender roles from the director. Then, halfway through, he switches gears, lulling us into a lengthy flashback that makes things even more disturbing.

Underscored by Alberto Iglesias’ haunting soundtrack – all Hitchcockian stabs and screeching violins – Almodóvar’s script (based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet) is a masterpiece of plotting. After years of perfecting his signature blend of melodrama and comedy, the director has found a new streak of horror to add to the mix, finding a groove that feels familiar yet astonishingly new.

The Skin I Live In is acted out faultlessly by Almodóvar’s two leads. Anaya is captivating as the vulnerable but feisty victim Vera, and Banderas is magnetic as the assured (but evidently insane) Dr. Ledgard. Marisa Paredes and Jan Corney add a realistic edge to the unnatural events in supporting roles, while the spot-on editing allows the tension to hit the roof without making a sound.

Put together on a disc that includes the two superb trailers and some short video interviews from its Film4 UK premiere at Somerset House, the DVD/Blu-ray release of The Skin I Live In is a fairly revealing package, if not an instantly impressive one. The most insight comes from the behind the scenes featurette, which shirks the usual voiceover and simply provides a montage of on-set shooting. It amounts to little more than a multi-angled look at certain key scenes, but its unusual presentation and the use of Iglesias’ unsettling music make for a strangely hypnotic retelling of an unexpected, weird and wonderfully unique movie.

Ivan Radford