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The Mask of Sorrow

The Skin I Live In (2011)

José Haro/Sony Pictures Classics

“The Skin I Live In” seemingly has the key ingredients of Pedro Almodóvar’s greatest hits: sex reassignment, a crazed fugitive copulating in a tiger costume, Marisa Paredes and, most importantly, Antonio Banderas. Since packing up for Hollywood nearly two decades ago, Mr. Banderas hadn’t looked back. But in between the “Shrek,” the “Spy Kids” and the “Mask of Zorro” franchises, his career had been a blur. Unimpeded by a stumbling accent this time, Mr. Banderas delivers his finest performance in recent memory and reminds us of the world-class leading man he is.

Mr. Almodóvar also seems rejuvenated by the reunion. There are sparks of the manic obsession and sex farces that made the world take notice in the 1980s. But those moments are relegated to whenever Roberto Álamo is on screen as Zeca, the other son of Marilia (Ms. Paredes), who is the maid and the secret birth mother of Robert Ledgard (Mr. Banderas). The rest of “The Skin I Live In” is pretty much the same stuff that Mr. Almodóvar has been joylessly churning out for the past decade, this time involving a face transplant as improbable as the one involving John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in “Face/Off.”

Ledgard is a plastic surgeon hell-bent on creating the perfect synthetic skin. To achieve this, he keeps a woman named Vera (Elena Anaya) captive to serve as his human guinea pig. As we soon learn, she isn’t who she seems. This passes for a plot twist only because it defies logic even when Mr. Almodóvar’s script so obviously heads in that direction. Ultimately, “The Skin I Live In” fails because it doesn’t have a moral or anything else to say in spite of its self-seriousness. The ending is so anticlimactic that it even falls short on the melodrama that Mr. Almodóvar has been supplying steadily throughout his career.


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