Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Le que habito

It is only within the past decade that I discovered the films of Almodovar

(1) Pepi, Luci, Bom Pepi, - Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Montón; (2) Dark Habits- Entre Tineblas;
(3)What Have I Done to Deserve This?: Que he hecho yo para merecer esto;
(4)Matador: Matador
(5)Law of Desire: La Ley del Deseo;
(6)Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios;
(7)Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down-!tame!
(8)High Heels;-Tacones Lejanos
Live Flesh Carne - Trémula
(9)All About My Mother- Todo Sobre Mi Madre
(10)Talk to Her - Hable Con Ella
(11)Bad Education -La Mala Educación
(12)Volver -Volver
(13)Broken Embraces -Los Abrazos Rotos

I have not seen the early film Labyrinth of Passion, or the more recent Kika and the Flower of my Secret. The Skin in which I live is his latest and experienced at the Cineworld Haymarket London on Sunday 18th September 2011. It is his cleverest and most mature of his films without unnecessary moments intended to shock. In his early films when a young man he had a tendency to shock for the sake of shocking and as challenge to the forces of the Catholic Church and Franco Fascist State which he still found influenced much of Spanish society and its culture. He has described The Skin in which I live: La Piel que Hablo, as a horror story without screams and frights, and so it is.

Robert Legard is a brilliant cosmetic surgeon who lives in Toledo and has converted part of his large villa and grounds estate into an operating theatre where people come knowing he is the best money can buy. His wealth is inherited from his father who had used his mother then as now a household servant. He is her second son who has become a criminal from childhood. They do not know they are half brothers. I am not sure if the criminal kidnaps Robert’s attractive wife who is severely burned in a car crash and badly disfigured or she has voluntarily become his lover, run off with him when the accident occurs. Robert uses all his skills to save her but she is still horribly disfigured before he is able to rebuild her body. She commits suicide after seeing her reflection in the mirror. The couple have a daughter who is badly affected by the death of her mother which she witnesses. She has escaped within a world of her own making and finds it difficult to cope with life but after making progress she returns home for a party being held at the home of her father.

Vicente played by Jan Cornet works with his mother at her specialist dress shop with a Lesbian assistant who Vicente tries to date. He is invited to attend a party with some male friends and their girls and full of drink and drugs he is attracted to the daughter not knowing that she has spent many years in psychiatric unit. The friends go out to have sex in the grounds and Vicente takes the daughter who says that she find clothing restraining and wishes she was naked. Vicente misinterprets this as an invitation to love making and at first the girl responds with enthusiasm but then panics and rejects unable to cope with the reality of the experience. Vicente runs off after first checking that the girl’s clothing is in order.

When her father, played by Antonio Banderas, finds his daughter she is hysterical and believes he has attempted to attack her. Her condition deteriorates and she returns to the psychiatric hospital where they advise the father to keep away as she cannot cope with any men near to her, She then also commits suicide like her mother. We know none of this when the film commences.
The film begins at the home of the Surgeon where Vera Cruz played by Elena Anaya is in the last stages of her transformation into a woman with perfect skin. She appears to be happy although lives locked in an ensuite room where her every action is monitored on television screens in the kitchen/day room. She practices Yoga, watches natural history documentaries on TV and receives food and drink and whatever else she needs via a dumb waiter. A woman has returned to the house from a trip and we learn she is the mother of the surgeon but functions as the housekeeper looking after the girl and any other patients who come for surgery.

A man arrives dressed in the carnival costume of a tiger, he is the other son of the woman who she has not seen for many years since the cat accident which effectively ended the lives of Robert’s wife and daughter. She begs him to go but he persuades her to let him into the house and to provide sanctuary after his latest criminal escapade has gone wrong. He then sees the Vera upstairs gags and ties up his mother after locating the whereabouts of the key to the room and says he is going to have sex with the girl who he views as the wife of his half brother reincarnated. Fortunately Robert returns, shoots and kills his half brother as he is in the process of raping the young woman.

This brings the young woman and Robert close together. She had wanted them to become lovers but he had been resistant for reason which become apparent after the flashback of what happened six years before. They comfort each other but do not have penetrative intercourse. His mother is concerned at this turn in the relationships and the freedom which her son is proposing to give to the young woman, allowing her out on a shopping trip with his mother. They appear bound to each other for life.

It is only then we learn the truth, a truth which even those who have not read any advance material about the film should have grasped. Six years earlier shortly after the party and the death of his daughter, Robert had planned and successfully executed the kidnapping of the young man who he then kept prisoner in a confined space limiting the amount of water and food but gradually restoring the young man to physical health before using medication to render him unconscious and then with false papers and his surgical team commences to change the young man not just into a young woman but also uses on her experimental skin which he has cultured in a process which is illegal which it the softest and clearest skin available. The process has taken six years.

The Stockholm Syndrome is a term used where the victims kidnapped and taken as hostages sometimes, about 1 in 4, begin to have empathy for their captors, especially if the captors begin to show kindness and take care. Given the tradition of men in tribes and uncivilised societies right into the nineteenth century to take women for brides and father children this has led to the creation of some women who are genetically predisposed to become submissive and to bond with aggressive and dominating men and vice versa. This tendency occurs in men as much as women placed in similar situations.

In the instance of the film Vicente’s mother does not believe her son had been swept out to sea when his motorcycle was found to have gone over a cliff onto rock below. Following the killing of his half brother and burning the remains, burning the clothing and sleeping with his creation, Robert decides on a new life and gives up clinical work to the horror of the rest of the clinical team from the private hospital for which they have all worked, They plead with Robert to be allowed to use the surgery facilities even if he proposes not to participate and when he refuses one produces a newspaper which lists missing individuals where mystery remains about what happened to them. One the team recognises the photograph of Vicente as the youth they undertaken a sex change operation and then checks and finds out that the papers are false and threatens to expose Robert if he persists in stopping their livelihood. Robert pulls a gun and forces the man to leave, His mother is also concerned about development and has acquired a gun to protect her son from the girl. At first it appears she should not have worried because Vera answers the black mailer by saying she volunteered to have the operation and has remained with Robert from choice. This appeases the member of the operating team who leaves..

However Vera sees a picture of Vicente and this triggers her memory and the loss her mother must be continuing to experience. This leads to getting hold of a gun kept in the house and shooting her captor dead when he is in bed. His mother hearing the shot and fearing the worst rushes upstairs with another gun and in the shoot out she is also shot dead. Vicente moves the body close to her son and wiping the gun free of finger prints places it in the hands of Robert suggesting that mother and son have killed each other.

Vera as she has become returns to dress shop where she is not recognised by her mother or the shop assistant, but she convinces the woman who she is and they in turn break the news of what happened to the mother explaining kidnap the enforced sex change and that he had had to kill two people to escape. The three are united.

It is a great film and one of the best of Almodovar and unlike Tinker Tailor which disappointed because it did not live up to the hype, manages to combine his usual ability to tell a story in his unique way with a serious work about identity, especially sexual identity, self deception, the dangers of vigilante justice and the bonds within family for good and for evil.

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