Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Skin I Live In.

Dressed in what appears to be a skin body suit  ?
The most successful Spanish filmmaker of all time, Pedro Almodovar, was born in La Mancha in September 1951; it was this arid, conservative region of central Spain where he grew up with his mother and a bevy of strong women who battled daily with the machismo of Spanish society in the 1950s and 60s.  Arriving in Madrid in 1968, he made a living buying and selling bits and pieces in Madrid's flea market until he took a job with the state telephone company. He saved up to buy a Super 8 camera and from 1972 to 1978 made almost a dozen shorts, mainly sex comedies with titles like The Fall of Sodom (1975) and Two Tarts: A Love Story That Ends In Marriage (1974). He wrote the fictional diary of a porn star, sang in a rock group, and became a seminal member of the underground scene which was to blossom into La Movida and become the best-known example of this countercultural movement that blossomed in Madrid following Franco’s death in 1975.

Pedro Almodovar. 

His first feature film Pepi, Luci, Bom was a raw, punk explosion of sex, violence and sick humour. Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for public release in 1980. The plot revolves around a woman who is raped by a policeman after he arrests her for growing marijuana. She gets her revenge by persuading his masochistic battered wife to leave him. All his early films reveal a world, held together by women, or by men who would be women, in which the centre stage is occupied by people from the edges of society, prostitutes, transvestites, transsexuals, drug addicts, depressed housewives, nymphomaniacs and pregnant nuns!
Dr. Robert Ledgard

Vera and the house keeper.

Almodovar proceeded to write and direct virtually a film ever two year’s, gathering around him a family of actors and technicians, honing his skills and polishing his style, adapting a collage of popular genres and using Hollywood melodrama’s as his starting point, nearly always placing women centre story. They are hugely stylish films and, in their themes (passion, death, religion) and sense of humour (often absurd, sometimes cruel), unmistakably Spanish. His work continues to garner critical respect and inspire interest in Spanish cinema worldwide. Along with his brother Agustin he created a production company El Deseo that guarantees his independence. Among his successes are All About My Mother (1999), which won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Film in 2000, and Volver (2006) whose entire female cast was recognised at Cannes in 2006 with the Best Female Actor Award.

The good Doctor examines his work.
The Poster.
You must have gathered by now the RBC Film Club this week showed the latest Almodovar movie The Skin I Live In (2011). This weeks host Audrey Young cleverly avoided giving away any of the plot in her well researched introduction. She described the Spaniard’s style of directing, which normally includes populist humour, the sensual use of colour, themes of romantic and family relationships and of course his trademark use of strong female characters. It was also pointed out that Almodovar acknowledged that his latest film has been influenced by Hammer horror movies, Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and the classic French horror film Eyes Without a Face (1960) in which a plastic surgeon grafts the faces of abducted Parisian girls on to his daughters face disfigured in a car crash. Audrey also suggested that it had similarities with the last film that he made with Antonio Banderas Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down (1990) which included themes involving madness, obsession, kidnapping and holding a person against their will.

The Skin I Live In, which could only have been made by Pedro Almodovar, was loosely based on a 1984 novel by Thierry Jonquet called Tarantula. The story, without giving away any spoilers, is set mainly in what appears to be an isolated house, El Cigarralin, where three people reside, a world-renowned plastic surgeon called Robert Ledgard, an elegant elderly housekeeper and a very beautiful female called Vera Cruz who is kept captive in a locked room and dressed in what appears to be a skin body suit. Ledgard’s wife was involved in a horrendous car crash some years earlier that resulted in her dying due to her injuries. Giving away any more of the plot would spoil the intricate twists and turns of this clever narrative.

A Tiger outfit!!!!
As was pointed out earlier in this ramble Antonio Banderas, who plays the plastic surgeon, has not collaborated with the man that gave him his debut role in the low budget movie Labyrinth of Passion (1982) for 21 years, Banderas appeared in Law of Desire (1986) Matador (1988) and the film that had finally achieved Almodovar’s international breakthrough Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).  Also starring, as the housekeeper Marilia, is Almodovar regular Marisa Paredes who first appeared in Dark Habits in 1983 and then went on to make four more movies with our director, High Heels (1991) The Flower of My Secret (1995) the award winning All About My Mother (1999) and an uncredited part in Talk to Her (2002). The third member of the household, Vera Cruz, is portrayed by Elena Anaya who we also saw in Talk to Her, but her breakthrough role was in Julio Medem Sex and Lucia (2001) she worked for a second time with this director in Rome in Rome (2010).

Following the film a rather muted discussion took place; most of the evenings audience seemed stunned by a film that had taken them places they did not necessarily want to go. Most agreed that this was probable the best film Almodovar has made, although I will reserve my own judgment until I have given it a second viewing, but its certainly up there with the very best of his work. This movie is a dazzling example of how to tell a story cinematically by a director who is a master of his craft. How many directors would dress one of the protagonists in a Tiger outfit, resplendent with tale? Described by one of the film club members as a horror film for grown up’s its much more than that in the fact that it successfully brings together not only elements of horror but Sci-fi, melodrama and black humour. The cinematography by regular Jose Luis Alcaine is perfect although different from earlier work as the scenes are more clinically lit, the cast are superb and the visual art direction is a credit to another Almodovar regular Antxon Gomez.

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