There aren’t many directors working today who maintain enough prestige and clout to be known only by a single name. Then again, there aren’t many directors working today who have the guts to make a film that depicts the image of a shrinking man climbing into his girlfriend’s vagina and have the ability to make this visual the furthest thing from being pornographic or obscene. That movie is the sublime Hable con Ella (Talk to Her) and its genius director is known simply by the name Almodóvar.
If the synopsis of his upcoming film, La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In), sounds like the plot for some kinky dominatrix porno, it’s only because it very well could be. But since it is an Almodóvar film, it will be a masterpiece instead.
Antonio Banderas plays a plastic surgeon whose beloved wife burned to death in a horrific car accident. Still obsessed with his wife’s death twelve years later, he creates a genetically engineered skin that protects the body from any damage. Now, all he needs is a human guinea pig, which comes in the form of a beautiful, mysterious woman.
Sexual obsession? Human guinea pigs? Almodóvar? Of course I watched the trailer. While watching, I had a slightly disconcerting epiphany- that is, I am simply not shocked anymore by the bizarre visuals conjured up in the head of that wonderful Spanish director. Certainly, any casual moviegoer would be disturbed. The trailer for The Skin I Live In offers such strange visuals as:
a) A bald man in a tiger-striped silk robe licking a television monitor that shows surveillance camera footage of a beautiful woman doing yoga.
b) A woman, wearing a white, expressionless mask and a
black leotard, kicking Antonio Banderas in the balls.
c) Antonio Banderas hosing down a near naked man in a dark cellar.
There are two possible explanations for my lack of shock in reaction to these images. Perhaps my four years of film school and the barrage of bizarre foreign film screenings that accompany my film theories classes may have desensitized me to movie sex and violence, akin to some kind of reverse Ludovico technique featured in A Clockwork Orange. But I know this is unlikely since I have avoided and will continue to avoid watching The Human Centipede. Sex sells but gag-inducing, ass-to-mouth human science experiments do not.
The only other explanation for my lack of shock can be summed up in one word- Almodóvar. The man knows how to humanize an image, no matter how superficially perverse it may be. He toys with audience’s preconceived notions of sexuality and morality, exposing the beauty of issues believed to be taboo. For all I know, the bald man licking the television monitor might be the most saliently human moment of Almodóvar’s upcoming film, just as the image of the perverted shrinking man was the most beautiful moment of Talk to Her. When it comes to Almodóvar, do not judge a movie by its trailer.
By: AJ Serrano