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Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault. In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needs an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia (Marisa Paredes), the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig...

Review by Louise Keller:
Bizarre, shocking, sexy and dark, this is Almodóvar at his brilliant melodramatic best as he toys with themes of obsession, revenge and playing God. Based on a novel by French writer Thierry Jonquet, the story includes many elements that are familiar to lovers of Almodóvar's works, in his construct about a plastic surgeon intent on recreating a resilient artificial skin. In a role that might have been written especially for him, it's a wonderful return to form for Antonio Banderas, in his first film with Almodóvar for over 20 years.

In his address to a seminar as a surgeon responsible for successful face transplants, Dr Robert Ledgard (Banderas) tells his audience how it is our face that identifies us. The face that he sees on giant video screens throughout his home is that of Vera (Anaya), a beautiful young woman wearing a flesh-coloured bodysuit, who lives behind a locked door. Why is Vera his prisoner? What is the nature of their relationship? Why does her face resemble that of his dead wife? And what secrets does his housekeeper Marilia (Paredes), who claims to have insanity in her entrails, keep hidden?

Who is the man wearing a tiger costume making an unexpected visit to the high security Ledgard house with a fully functioning operating theatre and on whose walls large paintings of voluptuous women are displayed. But there is also abstract art on the walls: symbolic bodies without faces. Who is Vicente (Cornet), a young man who works in his mother's vintage dress shop, and who we meet in a flashback, six years earlier. The answers to all these intriguing questions are slowly revealed over the next two hours.

Banderas has never looked or seemed better as the self-assured surgeon obsessed by the woman in his house. Anaya is as pliable as play-doh as she succumbs to the needs and wants of the man in whose house she lives. The fascinating and changing nature of the relationship between Ledgard and Vera glues us to the screen and promises are made. In tantalising and hypnotic style, Almodóvar weaves the elements of his complex tale like a surreal painting. It's one well worth viewing.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There's an edgy tone to Pedro Almodóvar's latest film, a blend of Frankenstein horror and his usual high level melodrama. The intriguing poster and title give little clue to the surprises this iconic filmmaker has cooked up for us from the Thierry Jonquet novel. Sporting two of his favourite actors from his early career, Antonio Banders as plastic surgeon Dr Ledgard and Marisa Paredes as Marilia, his long time housepeer, Almodóvar plugs us into a whirlpool of emotional constructs which turbo charge the story.

It's not just about a plastic surgeon's unethical transgenetic experiments with pigs blood and human cells; it's not just that he is driven by the pain of grief for his wife burnt to death; it's not just Marilia's reluctance; it's not just that Ledgard's unstable daughter has regressed; there is much more. Really, there is.

Banderas is enigmatically formidable as the surgeon who behaves like a man possessed to achieve his ambitions. And when his ambitions change direction, he is even more resolute and frightening. But he's not mad, not in the horror genre sense of a mad scientist.

Marilia is his accomplice, but is less and less committed to his decisions. Paredes is magnificent as she underplays what is a challenging role; her character could have easily become a caricature. But this is the creative tightrope Almodóvar always walks, suspended between the heaven of soaring human observation and the hell of soap opera banality. He succeeds because he always respects his characters and he mines real life for its strangest quirks with which to fill his screenplay.

Elena Anaya has the sensuality always found in Almodóvar's young women (all his women in fact). Her almost ethereal beauty plays a crucial role in the film's striking twist. But here, too, Almodóvar doesn't turn his twist into a cheap novelty item; he treats it with the humanity that gives audiences closure without losing ambiguity and resonance.

Jan Cornet plays Vicente, the young man who spends too much time getting high on drugs and not enough time helping out in his mother's recycled clothing shop. When he transgresses after a party one night, he is dragged unwillingly and unwittingly into Ledgard's world with grave consequences.

In some ways the film is a challenge for audiences; some of the time transitions are a little hard to follow and there are no handrails to clutch onto in this morally and ethically complex world, and even love is shaken, stirred and turned inside out.

Alberto Iglesias has composed a diverse score, full of colour here, darkness there, peaks and troughs, matching and driving the mood.

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(Spain, 2011)

La piel que habito

CAST: Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Blanca Suarez, Fernando Cavo, Jan Cornet, Barbara Lennie

PRODUCER: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García

DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar

SCRIPT: Pedro Almodóvar (novel by Thierry Jonquet)


EDITOR: Jose Salcedo

MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias


RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2011

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