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The Skin I Live In (free)

  • Chazen Museum of Art 750 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Of all the entries in Pedro Almodóvar's expansive filmography, The Skin I Live In (2011) most boldly wears its French influences on its sleeve. Inspired by the 1984 crime thriller novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, late-twentieth century fabric sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, and the surgical horrors in Georges Franju's film Eyes Without A Face (1960), Skin confronts sexual and gender identity while at once examining the human form's objectification in and through art. The plot principally concerns plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard's (Antonio Banderas) ambition to apply a synthetic, heat-resistant skin called "gal" on actual burn victims rather than on lab mice. But in his opening symposium, Ledgard's dark, problematic visions are revealed to his doctoral colleagues, forcing them to curtail his medical research. However, they are already unaware of a secret, monitored chamber on his own luxurious estate where he's holding captive a test subject, the petite Vera (Elena Anaya). This scene may initially promise a more menacing riff on the scenario that defined Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (which screens a week prior as part of UW Cinematheque's ongoing Almodóvar series at the Chazen), but the Spanish director is more interested in ambiguity slowly sustained through a double-edged voyeuristic exploration of revenge and redemption. In moments that seem to have inspired Alex Garland's Ex Machina (2015), Vera begins to devise her escape through a fake submission to her captor, intensely staring back at his strategically installed cameras, thus inverting the male gaze and further complicating Ledgard's primal motivations. While the ultimate effect of The Skin I Live In is somewhat impeded by a disorienting continuity, Almodóvar's strange and uninhibited filmmaking, which admirably looks at themes of fixed versus malleable identity, is progressive and transfixing. —Grant Phipps

Earlier Event: October 28