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On Antonio Banderas: The Skin I Live In & Puss in Boots

Nice year 2011 was for Mr. Melanie Griffith. It involved a continuation of a franchise and a return to his roots. How many American film-goers even realize that Pedro Almodovar cast Antonio in five films throughout the 1980’s before he made his stateside splash in 1992 with “The Mambo Kings”? Banderas also owes a debt of gratitude to Madonna for declaring her lust for him during her 1991 theatrical documentary, “Truth or Dare”(of course he would go on to portray Che Guevera to Madonna’s Eva Peron in 1996’s “Evita”). He was on U.S. radar as soon as his name left her lips. And he’s pretty much been a household name ever since. But we’ll credit Pedro with the find—and Antonio returned to him last year for “The Skin I Live In”.               Many who consider themselves Almodovar fans were put off by “Skin”. It certainly is a director being somewhat divergent and spreading his creative wings. All the typical Almodovar roadmarks are actually in place. But this time he wraps them around a decidedly Cronenbergian story involving body horror, mutilation and renewal. I’d like to believe that Pedro is a David C fan(btw, I intend to soon do a retrospective of David Cronenberg’s career on this blog…one film at a time. He has been my favorite director for quite some time now). I’ve heard “The Skin I Live In” described as a horror film, and that is certainly not off-base. Banderas’ Dr. Robert Ledgard is a mad scientist, and the classic “Frankenstein” parallels are unmistakable. The typical Hitchcockian elements are also there. And its revenge-based plot is steeped in melodrama. It is supposed to make you uncomfortable…and it does without question. The comeuppance given to Vicente(Jan Cornet)is meted out to him over the course of six years, and it is retaliation for a crime that he may not even be guilty of. You will be shown this, and it is left to you to decide. Is he still just Vicente when all is said and done? Questions of identity are also raised by Almodovar’s script, and the answers are complex and elusive.               Damn the critics who were distressed over Pedro leaving the comfort zone(theirs or his?). This is a marvelous, provocative work. Possibly his best since 2002’s “Talk to Her”(his masterpiece). And Antonio Banderas is dead-on as the mad doctor. His smashing good looks only enhance the creepiness factor as you watch him gradually go completely off the rails.               And what of “Puss in Boots”? Just because the Shrek franchise has wrapped doesn’t mean sidekick Puss can’t forge on alone. And it’s a rousing, if empty, good time that managed to score a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination in a weak year for the field(Gore Verbinski’s “Rango” took home the gold). It’s Antonio’s fourth go-round as Puss, and this prequel to the “Shrek” films introduces us to Kitty Softpaws(Salma Hayek)and Humpty Alexander Dumpty(Zach Galifianakis). A “Jack and the Beanstalk” plot involving stolen beans and golden eggs is soon put into play with a back story focusing on Humpty’s troubled past. It’s quick and witty and an entertaining watch. It also feels like the filmmakers are afraid that if they slow down you will realize there is not all that much there. It’s a good froth though, and Bandares as Puss is as charming and swashbuckling as ever(shouldn’t this also be seen as a sequel to Antonio’s “Zorro” films?). My kids enjoyed it and I think yours will too…and most of the savvy adult humor will sail right over their heads. It’s just a notch below something like “Rio”, but a full grade above the massive disappointment of the crappy, “Cars 2”.               2011 featured Antonio Bandares in solid movie star AND artistic form. And after a slew of lesser entries among his resume this past decade, I’m pleased to have the cinema once again be A.B. positive.     “The Skin I Live In”   Grade: A-      “Puss in Boots”   Grade: C+

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3 comments on “On Antonio Banderas: The Skin I Live In & Puss in Boots

  1. I disagree with your assertion that, “All the typical Almodovar roadmarks are actually in place.” For one this film is bereft of humor. I don’t think there’s a smile to be had and Almodovar has been able to mine humor from the most unexpected places. Even the Tiger guy was just weird and not funny. While Banderas and Elena Anaya look fantastic the backgrounds and sets, usually beautifully set, are fairly drab by Almodovar standards. And most famously Almodovar there was not much focus or interest in female characters. Strong female roles are in short supply and rely on Almodovar to give us some juicy ones.

    This is not to say Almodovar can’t do something different (and do it well) but this did not feel like an Almodovar film.

    • You are probably right about the humor, Brian. I just gave this a fresh re-watch in the last few days, and it is a pretty stark affair throughout. “Broken Embraces” and “Volver” both(Pedro’s previous two works)were especially light on their feet—even when violence was in the mix. But even though it’s absent…I find I didn’t miss the humor here. Once I realized that Almodovar was doing a Cronenberg/Frankenstein film, I accepted the macabre and dove in. That being said, James Whale’s “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein”(the two greatest films ever derived from the Mary Shelley classic)were LOADED with laughs…especially “Bride”. So, your point is insightful and I respect the observation. I amend my comment to you…I should have written “MOST of the typical roadmarks are in place”… However, that drab design that you describe seems perfectly acceptable considering the thematic direction he was following(I wouldn’t be surprised if I read that Pedro considered filming in black & white). And, despite the almost garish color of something like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”, I wasn’t really referring to his visual palette for “Skin”. The Hitchcock elements, the melodramatic set-ups, the family secrets, identity and sexual deviance—all of THAT typical Almodovar was there. And where we most differ is on the female performances. Besides the strong work from Anaya, there are very solid perfs from Susi Sanchez, Blanca Suarez, and(especially)Almodovar regular, Marisa Paredes. There was a whole lot of Banderas in this, for sure. But just as much focus and screen time for Elena Anaya. I think SOME may have been spoiled by the heavily female-centric quality of his last few films, but I don’t believe Pedro has betrayed that necessarily with his latest. ML

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