At this stage of his illustrious career, Pedro Almodóvar seems able to plunge viewers into gorgeously shot worlds of rapturous color and pulpy intrigue with one hand tied behind his back. His latest film finds him deploying his signature style—as identifiable and intoxicating as Hitchcock's—in the service of a new type of tale, described by the director as "a horror story without screams and frights."
At the center of this story is Antonio Banderas, whose gorgeous young form lit up a run of Almodóvar's '80s and '90s films, and who appears here in all his middle-aged handsomeness as a brilliant plastic surgeon haunted by loss and not above working out his shit on the operating table. His favored guinea pig: a mysterious young woman kept comfortably captive in the doctor's home and tended to by an icy housekeeper (Marisa Paredes, another Almodóvar hall of famer). From this toxic setup, The Skin I Live In spins off in a half-dozen directions, leaping through time and flirting with story lines that evoke deeper mysteries while remaining tantalizingly unresolved. The film is spellbinding, and all Almodóvar fans and film lovers should see it.
However, as Almodóvar fans know, no filmmaker in history has incorporated stories of transgender people so naturally and thoroughly into his worldview. (1999's All About My Mother, in particular, posited a world in which pre-, mid-, and post-op trans folk were as common as oxygen.) So it's a shock and a bit of drag to find Almodóvar here casting gender-reassignment surgery as violent horror, with lascivious attention paid to the physical details of maintaining a freshly constructed sex organ, and vaginoplasty played as the ultimate diabolical punishment. It all makes sense in the framework of the movie, but it leaves an icky residue.