It’s common for critics to describe one movie by comparing it to another, as if, unable to accept something new on its own terms, they must fall back on whatever pre-existing standard is most convenient. It is a practice that seems to rankle filmmakers, who usually prefer to treat their ideas as immaculate conceptions rather than share the credit with peers.
It is startling, then, that Pedro Almodóvar, the celebrated Spanish auteur whose grotesque drama “The Skin I Live In” opens Friday, is so quick to liken his latest to recent offerings by Terrence Malick and Danish provocateur Lars von Trier.
“I think my film, like Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life’ and von Trier’s ‘Melancholia,’ looks at the next step humanity might take, and it looks apocalyptic – not from a science-fiction standpoint, but from a human one,” says Almodóvar, 62, who often begins his answers in deliberate, broken English before losing patience and returning to his native tongue.
“Malick looks at family and loss with a capital ‘L’ from an almost spiritual perspective, and ‘Melancholia’ is much more literal, about the actual end of the world. My film is about transgenesis and the limitations of humanity. We’ve reach an ethical boundary that science dares not cross over. But we’re still just one step from that line.”
The director envisions a time, close at hand, when man will rival God as a creator. “Skin” takes that notion to an admittedly perverse extreme, one that Almodóvar calls “ugly, ugly, ugly,” though he stops short of classifying the movie as horror, and beseeches reporters to show similar restraint.
Almodóvar doesn’t object to characterizations of “Skin” as one of his darkest films to date – if anything, he wearily concedes the point. It was for this reason he reconnected with frequent collaborator and close friend Antonio Banderas, who plays a disturbed surgeon in “Skin.”
“The world has changed for the worse,” he says. “So has my life. As time has gone on, I’ve become more mature, and my movies darker. I don’t want fans of the genre to think I’ve made a horror film. This isn’t ‘The Human Centipede.’ At the same time I didn’t want to make ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ again.
“The time was right for Antonio and I to do something different. He was ready to get back in the mud. He has that intensity, and he’s older now but still handsome. And he doesn’t look like a psycho – this was key. He could exist in society without drawing attention to himself.”
IF YOU GO
The Skin I Live In
Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet
Written by Pedro Almodóvar, Augustín Almodóvar
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Running time 1 hour 57 minutes