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Film Review: The Skin I Live In

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Following the death of his wife, surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) threw himself into his work and developed a new form of prosthetic skin, much tougher than regular human skin. Ledgard performs his experiments on Vera (Elena Anaya), a young woman held captive in his house, but as we learn more about her and why she’s there, the shocking truth behind Ledgard’s experiments are revealed.

It’s difficult, maybe impossible, to really identify what kind of film The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito in its mother tongue) is. Without a doubt, it has its roots in films such as Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, but it uses so many different elements from other films, that it only really keeps a company of one. At times it feels like a body horror film, whereas it could be argued that it’s a love story deep down. It’s also part mad scientist film, whilst there are undoubtedly surrealist elements mixed in – guy dressed as a tiger, anyone?

Similarly, the film explores a wide range of themes, including control within relationships, coping with grief, sexuality and gender. There’s an awful lot going on but it never becomes overwhelming; these themes are laid out in front of you but are never shoved in your face at the expense of the story. When Vera watches a wildlife documentary showing a cheetah toying with its prey, it’s a clear metaphor for Ledgard and Vera’s relationship. Similarly, Ledgard also enjoys ‘straightening’ bonsai trees in his spare time, another sign that he loves to manipulate nature’s design. Both simple but very effectively portrayed.

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As is the film’s aesthetic. It has a minimalist look about it that is stylishly shot, with almost every scene being perfectly framed. The cinematography is almost meticulous in its execution and the vibrant and clever use of colour sometimes make the whole thing feel like an art exhibition, which, again, appropriately fits the themes the film presents.

Narratively, The Skin I Live In is a very clever film. Early on we naturally make judgements about the characters and their actions, but through flashbacks we are shown what led them to be where they are in the present and this (will likely) drastically change our opinion of them. As such, it ends up being almost a completely different film to the one at the beginning. The ending is perhaps the film’s weakest moment as it is slightly predictable and a little underwhelming (it also should have ended about 20 seconds sooner), but it’s still a fitting denouement nonetheless.

Of director Pedro Almodovar’s other films, I have only seen Volver, but there seems to be something truly fantastical about his work. Both these films seem almost fairytale-esque, rooted in the impossible yet managing to feel grounded in reality. I can imagine his films not appealing to everyone, and The Skin I Live In isn’t for those who don’t completely buy into a film’s story. You definitely get out what you put into it. Fortunately, I was completely invested in it and am now eager to check out more of the director’s work.

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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Film Review: Ruby Sparks

Ruby SparksWriter and titular star of Ruby Sparks, Zoe Kazan, has some pretty big shoes to fill. She’s the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, whilst her grandfather is the legendary writer and director Elia Kazan, most famous for On The Waterfront. That’s quite the heritage, but if this, her debut as a writer, is anything to go by, she’s obviously picked up a thing or two.

Ruby Sparks, directed by husband and wife duo Jonathan Drayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame, is the story of Calvin War-Fields (Paul Dano), a young novelist hailed as the next big thing in American literature thanks to his debut novel. However, his follow up is proving a struggle and he doesn’t know where to begin. Calvin starts writing about his perfect girl, called Ruby, and is shocked when the girl he’s invented comes to life and he’s able to control her entire life through his writing.

The film starts sweetly and simply enough. Calvin has everything except someone to love and have love him back. So, when he is able to create his perfect woman, everything plays out almost like an indie romantic comedy. And this girl is real, by the way, not just a figment of his imagination. His whole family can see her, so this is no examination of split-personality disorder or anything like that. So, it’s a relatively happy, quirky film, but in the second half things take a much darker twist, and this is Ruby Sparks’ trump card.

As Ruby starts to live her life, Calvin discovers there are things he doesn’t like about her and decides to change her. Calvin becomes a control freak and doesn’t want Ruby to have a life outside of him and ends up almost completely rewriting her. This is an obvious look at how someone in a relationship may try to control and change someone else and the destructive effects this can have. It’s quite an unexpected turn the film takes but it’s one that gives it much more depth it might otherwise have had.

Something that is bound to be a bone of contention is the film’s ending. It is one that seems simple upon first viewing but the more you think about it, the more different interpretations it can have, many of which are, unfortunately, rather unsatisfying. It’s a shame that a film that feels so original is let down by an ending that, in an attempt to be clever, ultimately feels awkward. Of course, many others may feel differently about this and feel that it works perfectly.

It’s a relatively small cast but performances are great all round, which really helps build a tight and focused film. A sub plot regarding Calvin’s mother and step father feels a little underdeveloped but doesn’t at all hamper enjoyment. Despite some misgivings about the ending, Ruby Sparks is a delightful debut from Kazan and a hopeful sign of great things to come.

4 pigeons

4/5 pigeons

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