The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In Information

The Skin I Live In () is a 2011 Spanish psychological thriller film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, and Roberto Álamo. The Skin I Live In is based on Thierry Jonquet's novel Mygale, first published in French and then in English under the title Tarantula. The film premiered in May 2011 in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, and won Best Film Not in the English Language at the 65th British Academy Film Awards.

Almodóvar has described the film as "a horror story without screams or frights". The film was the first collaboration in 21 years between Almodóvar and Banderas.


Surgeon Robert Ledgard was successful in cultivating artificial skin resistant to burns and insect bites, which he says he has been testing on athymic mice, which he calls "GAL". He presents his results in a medical symposium but when he privately discloses he has also conducted illegal transgenetic experiments on humans, he is forbidden to continue with his research.

On his secluded estate, Ledgard is keeping a young woman named Vera captive, with the help of one of his servants, Marilia. Due to the suspension of his official experiments, Robert asks Marilia to dismiss the other servants.

While Robert is out, Marilia's son Zeca, having committed a robbery, arrives and asks his mother to hide him for a few days. He sees Vera on Ledgard's security camera screens and demands to see her in the flesh. When Marilia refuses to let him stay after she invites him in, he binds and gags her and then rapes Vera. Robert soon arrives and kills Zeca.

While Robert disposes of Zeca's body, Marilia tells Vera that she is the mother of both Zeca and Robert by different men, a fact she has not shared with them. Robert was adopted by Marilia's employers but was ultimately raised by her. Zeca later left to live in the streets and smuggle drugs, while Robert went to medical school and married a woman named Gal. When Zeca came back years later, he and Gal run off together, only to be involved in a terrible car crash. Gal was left badly burnt, and thereafter lived in total darkness and without any mirrors. One day, while hearing her daughter Norma singing in the garden, Gal accidentally saw her own reflection in the window, and, traumatized by the sight, jumped to her death.

In the present day, Robert comes back and spends the night with Vera. During the night, he dreams of his past, specifically the night of a wedding six years earlier, where he finds Norma unconscious on the ground. Norma, taking medication for psychosis, and in shock, thinks that her father has raped her and develops a fear of all men. She eventually kills herself in the same manner that her mother did.

Vera, too, dreams about the same event: Vicente, a young man who works in his mother's dress shop, crashes the wedding and meets Norma. The two start to have sex in the garden, but Norma, hearing the song she sung as a child the day her mother committed suicide, has a panic attack and bites Vicente, in order to make him stop. He knocks her unconscious, fleeing the scene, just as Robert arrives.

Robert tracks Vicente down, kidnaps him, and subjects him to sex reassignment surgery. Over a period of six years, Robert physically transforms Vicente into Vera, a replica of his late wife.

Marilia, absent for the last four years, returns to work in Robert's house and looks after Vera, inadvertently revealing to her that she (Vera) has been held captive for the last six years.

Back in the present day, Vera's new relationship with Robert dismays Marilia, who does not trust her. Fulgencio, one of Robert's colleagues, reads a news story about the missing Vicente and recognizes him as one of their sex change patients. He accuses Robert of falsifying Vicente's consent and of experimenting on him. Vera arrives to support Robert, asserting her willing participation. During the night, Robert and Vera try to have sex, but Vera tells him that she is still sore from being raped, and goes downstairs to get some lubricant. She takes Robert's gun from his desk and goes upstairs, killing both Robert and Marilia.

Vera returns to her mother's dress shop for the first time as a woman, tearfully telling her lesbian ex-colleague Cristina, whom she had loved as a young boy, of her kidnapping and forced sex change, before revealing her identity to her mother.


  • Antonio Banderas as Robert Ledgard
  • Elena Anaya as Vera Cruz
  • Marisa Paredes as Marilia
  • Jan Cornet as Vicente Guillén Pińeiro
  • Roberto Álamo as Zeca
  • Blanca Suárez as Norma Ledgard
  • Susi Sánchez as Vicente's mother
  • Bárbara Lennie as Cristina
  • Eduard Fernández as Fulgencio
  • Concha Buika as Wedding singer


Pedro Almodóvar read Thierry Jonquet's Tarantula about ten years before the film premiered. He described what attracted him in the novel as "the magnitude of Doctor Ledgard's vendetta". This became the core of the adaptation, which over time moved further and further from the original plot of the novel. Almodóvar was inspired by Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face and the thriller films of Fritz Lang when he wrote the screenplay.

The director announced the project in 2002, when he envisioned Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz in the film's two leading roles, but he eventually settled on Banderas and Elena Anaya. The Skin I Live In was the first film Almodóvar and Banderas made together in 21 years, after having been regular collaborators in the 1980s. The film was produced through El Deseo for a budget of "?10 million.

Principal photography began 23 August 2010 and ended almost four months later. Filming locations included Santiago de Compostela, Madrid, and a country house outside Toledo.


The film premiered on 19 May 2011 in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Due to developments in the industry of film distribution, El Deseo decided to abandon their previous release strategy for Almodóvar's works. The director's films had in the past usually been released in Spanish theatres in the spring and internationally during the last quarter of the year. The Skin I Live In was released worldwide in the autumn. The British release was 26 August 2011 through 20th Century Fox. In Spain it premiered on 2 September 2011. The film was released in the United States on 14 October the same year in a limited run through Sony Pictures Classics following its American premiere at the 49th New York Film Festival on 12 October 2011.

Critical reception

In May 2011, Kirk Honeycutt, writing for The Hollywood Reporter, said "Along with such usual Almodóvar obsessions as betrayal, anxiety, loneliness, sexual identity, and death, the Spanish director has added a science-fiction element that verges on horror. But like many lab experiments, this melodramatic hybrid makes for an unstable fusion. Only someone as talented as Almodóvar could have mixed such elements without blowing up an entire movie." Honeycutt continued: "The film's design, costumes and music, especially Alberto Iglesias' music, present a lushly beautiful setting, which is nonetheless a prison and house of horror. Almodóvar pumps his movie full of deadly earnestness and heady emotions." David Gritten notes Almodóvar "reaches out tentatively into unexplored genre territory"?horror...Yet despite squirm-worthy moments ... the promise of horror gives way to Almodóvar's broader, familiar preoccupations: identity, blood ties, disguises and genetic traits." According to Gritten, "A list of the story's various elements—date rape, murder, secrets, lies, mystery parents, gender ambiguity, unbreakable emotional bonds—confirms The Skin I Live In as essentially a melodrama. Yet Almodóvar's story-telling is nowhere near as shrill as it once was: as a mature artist, he has refined his skills to a point where these soap-opera tropes assimilate smoothly into a complex whole....Typically for Almodóvar, it all looks ravishing, thanks to production designer Antxon Gómez and cinematographer José Luis Alcaine. All three men have the gift of investing mundane objects with a unique sheen; here even surgical instruments, about to be used malevolently, assume a dreamy, otherworldly quality. The Skin I Live In is the work of a master near the top of his game."

Upon its UK premiere, Peter Bradshaw gave it (four of five stars), calling it "fantastically twisted" and "a truly macabre suspense thriller""?"Banderas is a wonderfully charismatic leading man; Almodóvar has found in him what Hitchcock found in Cary Grant. He is stylish, debonair, but with a chilling touch of determination and menace."

In an October 2011 New York Times Critics' Pick review, Manohla Dargis called the film "an existential mystery, a melodramatic thriller, a medical horror film or just a polymorphous extravaganza"; according to Dargis:

It takes time to get a handle on the story (and even then, your grip may not be secure), though it's instantly clear that something is jumping beneath the surface here, threatening to burst forth. Vera's plight and the temporal shifts help create an air of unease and barely controlled chaos, an unsettling vibe that becomes spooky when Ledgard puts on a white lab coat and begins doing strange things with blood....There are times in The Skin I Live In when it feels as if the whole thing will fly into pieces, as complication is piled onto complication, and new characters and intrigues are introduced amid horror, melodrama and slapstick.... [Yet] Mr. Almodóvar's control remains virtuosic and the film hangs together completely, secured by Vera and Ledgard and a relationship that's a Pandora's box from which identity, gender, sex and desire spring.
Dana Stevens noted it was Almodóvar's "first attempt to blend elements of the horror genre with the high-camp, gender-bending melodrama that's become his stock in trade"; she called it "visually lush and thematically ambitious", a film that "unfolds with a clinical chill we're unaccustomed to feeling in this director's films. The Skin I Live In is a math problem, not a poem. Still, what an elegant proof it is." Stevens called it a "meditation on profound themes: memory, grief, violence, degradation, and survival", a "multigenerational melodrama [that] slowly fuse[s] into a coherent (if wackily improbable) whole", offering "aesthetic and intellectual gratification, but little in the way of emotional punch."

In a report for The Buenos Aires Herald, film critic Julio Nakamurakare wrote that: "The long name-dropping as flaunted by film critics also includes references to Herzog. Under which pretense, I'm not quite sure. They may all be right, but the truth remains that The Skin I Live In, slow-moving and with a wayward, confusing narrative in spite of the explanatory intertitles for hare-brained viewers like this scribe, is an insatisfactory product on most counts, and Almodóvar's admirable body of work may go to his own detriment, for it is inevitably compared with The Skin I Live In. Indeed, we have all learned to expect a head-twisting shocker from every move by Almodóvar, as in the weirdly fascinating Talk to Her, organically and genetically repulsive at first but oddly compulsive on further scrutiny. This is clearly not the case with The Skin I Live In. This time round, Almodóvar gets lost in the maze he himself has built in the image of Dr. Robert Ledgard, a calque of the sweetly, achingly, neurotically obsessed Ricky played by Banderas in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down! (1992), in which the game of opposites functioned much more efficiently than in the shallow, disappointingly superficial The Skin I Live In. As can be surmised, The Skin I Live In fails to run smoothly, and, in spite of all the hype, there is no 'Almodóvar plunges into new philosophical depths' here."


Anaya received the Goya Award for Best Actress. The film won Best Film Not in the English Language at the 65th British Academy Film Awards; in previous years Almodóvar won that same award for his 1999 film All About My Mother and his 2002 film Talk to Her.

Awards Group Category Recipient Result
Argentinean Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Film
BAFTA AwardsBest International Film
British Independent Film AwardsBest Foreign Film
Broadcast Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Film
Cannes Film FestivalPalme d'OrPedro Almodóvar
Chicago Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Film
Cinema Writers Circle AwardsBest ActressElana Anaya
Best Cinematography
Best Editing
Best Score
Best Screenplay
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Film
European Film AwardsBest Composer
Best Production
Fangoria Chainsaw AwardsBest ActorAntonio Banderas
Best Foreign Film 3rd place
Best Supporting Actress Elena Ayana 3rd place
Best Screenplay
Florida Film Critics Circle AwardsBest Foreign Film
Fotogramas de PlataBest ActressElena Ayana
Best ActorAntonio Banderas
Golden GlobesBest Foreign Film
Goya AwardsBest ActressElena Ayana
Best Make-Up
Best New ActorJan Cornet
Best Score
Best ActorAntonio Banderas
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design
Best Director
Best Editing
Best Film
Best New ActressBlanca Suarez
Best Production
Best Production Supervision
Best Screenplay
Best Sound
Best Effects
London Critics Circle Film AwardsForeign Film of the Year
Technical Achievement of the Year
Online Film Critics Society AwardsBest Foreign Film
Phoenix Film Critics Society AwardsBest Foreign Film
Sant Jordi AwardsBest Film
Best ActressElena Ayana2nd Place
Saturn AwardBest International Film
Best ActorAntonio Banderas
Best Make-Up
Best Supporting ActressElena Anaya
Southeastern Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Film 2nd Place
Spanish Actors UnionBest Male NewcomerJan Cornet
Best Female PerformanceElena Ayana
Best Male PerformanceAntonio Banderas
Best Female in Minor PerformanceMarisa Paredes
Best Female in Minor PerformanceSusi Sánchez
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association AwardsBest Foreign Film
World Soundtrack Awards 2012Best Composer of the YearAlberto Iglesias

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