From Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar (Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother) comes a twisted mad-scientist fable, with Antonio Banderas cast as a wealthy surgeon experimenting with bizarre plastic surgery in an isolated, art-filled mansion. With a deliberately preposterous storyline involving burning bodies, evil brothers, rape, suicide, revenge, sexual identity and medical procedure, this is darkly comic arthouse soap – with a tinge of horror – and definitely an acquired taste.
The film played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this year to mixed reviews, although most thought that Banderas pulled off a fine performance. He is Robert Ledgard, a man so disturbed by his wife’s disfigurement in a car accident that he is driven to search for the perfect artificial skin. The film opens with a beautiful young woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) locked in Ledgard’s nouveau-gothic mansion where – thanks to surveillance cameras and large canvas-like video screens – he watches her as she relaxes in a full body suit. Who Vera is, why she is locked up, and what exactly is her complex relationship to Ledgard, plays out as Hitchcock-style mystery with Almodovar moving back and forth in time and dwelling on the macabre.
Whilst it may seem like a luscious variation of the Dr. Frankenstein story, Almodovar’s real objective appears more complex – to explore the extent to which it is possible to transform an object of hate into one of love. This is surely Ledgard’s misguided obsession and, work as he must on the surface of Vera’s body, he fails to imagine what lies within and what transformation the inner being might have to make for his mad plan to have effect.
Given the strange storyline and Almodovar’s lingering moody direction, there’s little emotional reality to hold onto, events unfolding as a series of almost ritualistic discoveries wrapped in a hyper-real style. And whilst Banderas smolders with a quiet kind of purposeful rage as he slices and dices, he is unable to show us much of the emotional logic behind his actions. One to think about.