Antonio Banderas stars as a surgeon who has come up with a new artificial skin for use in transgenesis skin grafts. Unbeknownst to the outside world, he has a young woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) locked-up in his basement to conduct illegal experiments on. The only other person who knows about this is housekeeper Marisa Paredes, but her jewel robber son (Roberto Alamo) is about to come into this bizarre situation, after his latest heist. From here, secrets are unveiled, involving Banderas’ dead wife Gal, their young daughter Norma, and a young creep named Vicente, who attempted to rape Norma.
Aside from his tedious first film “Pepi, Luci, and Bom” and the more recent “Volver”, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar (whose films also include “High Heels”, “Talk to Her”, and “Dark Habits”) has yet to make a boring film that I’ve seen. However, his films tend to be extremely uneven and I always end up admiring the raunchy excess of parts of the film rather than actually liking them overall. “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” helped make a dubious man out of me (and pretty much introduced me to foreign-language cinema), but I can’t exactly say it or “Kika” were exactly great films. Meanwhile, his more recent efforts like the silly “Volver” have shied away from his earlier naughtiness, perhaps too much so. “All About My Mother” was probably the most well-made of his films up to that point, but pretty much everyone liked that one. With this 2011 film, it would appear that Spain’s ‘bad boy’ of cinema has managed to combine the raunchiness of his early work with the more mature side of his filmmaking, and in my view, he has given us his best film to date. Being that it’s essentially “Frankenstein”, Almodovar-style, it’s probably one of his more accessible ‘exploitation’ films too. I wouldn’t say it gets back to the bathtub toy raunchiness of “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (which, remember, also starred Banderas), but it’s a much better film than that was.
It’s interesting that Almodovar is a gay man, because in this film more than any previous Almodovar film, he’s celebrating the female form. This is one seriously pervy, boobtastic film. The decor in Banderas’ house appears to include giant Titian-like paintings, for starters. The wonderfully bodacious Elena Anaya bares her boobs in the opening ten minutes and spends most of the rest of the film in a synthetic body suit fitted with giant boobs. This is great stuff (almost Jess Franco-esque at times), even before you get to Banderas’ voyeuristic big-screen TV/peephole deal. You just knew this is what a Pedro Almodovar version of the Frankenstein/monster relationship would be like (though it’s based on a novel by Thierry Jonquet). Only the inimitable Pedro Almodovar would work in a ‘vaginoplasty’ into what is essentially a very nutty variant of “Bride of Frankenstein” (It’s a shame we don’t really get the ‘money shot’, though. He kinda makes up for it with those ‘dilators’, however. Hilariously wrong). The great thing is, he’s a bonafide filmmaker, not just an exploiter or reveller in trash. This is by far his most attractive-looking film, with Almodovar (who co-writes with brother Agustin Almodovar) well assisted by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine and production designer Antxon Gomez.
It is however, a much more extreme film than “All About My Mother” and “Volver”. I mean, Almodovar gets away with one moment of sexual assault by having one person in a synthetic skin suit and the other in a tiger costume (tail included), but he gives us a scene after that which isn’t as easy to laugh off. So, whilst the fact that Almodovar is working within a “Frankenstein”-like plot framework which might make the film more accessible than say “Dark Habits”, it’s still pretty confronting and typically bizarre. But how can you not enjoy a film that gives Marisa Paredes lines like ‘I’ve got insanity in my entrails!’? It’s a pretty insane film and one has to wonder how Almodovar can get away with such extreme and bizarre content in the eyes of critics, when others cannot. He certainly has more filmmaking talent than many, so perhaps that helps.
He’s rounded up a good cast here too, but surprisingly, and underplaying Antonio Banderas (reuniting with director Almodovar for the first time in decades) plays a role that doesn’t play to his strengths of masculine charisma and charm. He’s good and extremely intense, just in a less charismatic manner than one usually expects from Banderas and his usual uber-machismo. It’s curious casting which actually sees him get upstaged by co-star Elena Anaya. Anaya had a memorable lead role in “Room in Rome”, and if you haven’t seen that film, you need to. It’s basically two chicks in a hotel together, mostly naked and mostly fucking each other. For two hours. Brilliant film. Anyway, here she’s absolutely gorgeous and sexy, her body truly is a wonderment to behold (Her breasts and arse particularly. Hey, Almodovar singles them out, why shouldn’t I?). Best of all, she can act. I’m not sure why she isn’t more internationally famous, because she really seems to have it all. There’s also an interesting role for Marisa Paredes, although it’s not a very large part. Special mention must also go to Alberto Iglesias, whose fantastic score goes off into some very strange places at times.
The film ends on a rather strange and underwhelming moment, but otherwise this is a strange and memorable film. One of the best films of 2011, certainly, but not for everyone, perhaps.