The Skin I Live In

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The Skin I Live In
Theatrical release poster
SpanishLa piel que habito
Directed byPedro Almodóvar
Screenplay byPedro Almodóvar
Based onTarantula
by Thierry Jonquet
Produced by
CinematographyJosé Luis Alcaine
Edited byJosé Salcedo
Music byAlberto Iglesias
Distributed byWarner Bros. Entertainment España
Release dates
  • 19 May 2011 (2011-05-19) (Cannes)
  • 2 September 2011 (2011-09-02) (Spain)
Running time
120 minutes[1]
Budget$13.5 million[2]
Box office$30.8 million[3]

The Skin I Live In (Spanish: La piel que habito) is a 2011 Spanish science fiction psychological thriller film[4] written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet and Roberto Álamo. It is based on Thierry Jonquet's 1984 novel Mygale, first published in French and then in English under the title Tarantula.[2][5]

Almodóvar has described the film as "a horror story without screams or frights".[6] The film was the first collaboration in 21 years between Almodóvar and Banderas since Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990).[7] It premiered in May 2011 in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, and won Best Film Not in the English Language at the 65th BAFTA Awards. It was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and 16 Goya Awards.


Plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard was successful in cultivating an artificial skin resistant to burns and insect bites, which he calls "GAL", that he says he has been testing on athymic mice. He presents his results in a medical symposium but when he privately discloses he has also conducted illegal transgenic 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, Ledgard asks Marilia to dismiss the other servants.

While Ledgard is out, Marilia's estranged son Zeca, having committed a robbery, arrives in a tiger costume 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 person. When Marilia refuses to let him stay after she invites him in, he binds and gags her and then rapes Vera. Ledgard arrives and kills Zeca.

While Ledgard disposes of Zeca's body, Marilia tells Vera that she (Marilia) is the mother of both Zeca and Ledgard by different men, a fact she has not shared with them. Ledgard was adopted by Marilia's employers, but was ultimately raised by her. Zeca later left to live in the streets and smuggle drugs, while Ledgard went to medical school and married a woman named Gal. When Zeca returned years later, he and Gal ran off together. They were involved in a terrible car crash in which Gal was badly burnt. Zeca had left the scene assuming her to be dead, while Ledgard had taken her from the car (in the present, Zeca had mistaken Vera for Gal, something she did not deny). Thereafter she lived in total darkness without any mirrors. One day, while hearing her daughter Norma singing in the garden, Gal accidentally sees her own reflection in the window; traumatized by the sight, she jumps to her death.

In the present, Ledgard returns 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 (his daughter) unconscious on the ground. Norma, who had been taking medication for psychosis—having been rendered mentally unstable due to witnessing her mother's suicide—comes to believe that Ledgard had raped her upon awakening with him above her; she subsequently develops a fear of all men and spends years in a mental health facility. 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. Like others at the party, he is under the influence of drugs. He walks with Norma into the garden. She lists the psychiatric medications she has taken. Norma begins to take off some of her clothes, stating she would be naked all the time if she could. Vicente kisses her and compliments her. While they are lying down with Vicente on top of her, she suddenly starts to have a frantic reaction to the music playing—the same song she was singing when her mother committed suicide—and starts screaming. Vicente attempts to hush her screams, leading to her biting his hand. He slaps her, knocking her unconscious. He rearranges her clothes and flees the scene, looking around nervously for potential witnesses, just before Ledgard arrives; he is unaware that Ledgard notices him leaving on his motorbike.

Ledgard tracks down Vicente and while in disguise, knocks Vicente off his motorbike, kidnaps him, and holds him in captivity. Vicente's mother reports his disappearance to the police, but after they find his motorbike at the bottom of a cliff, they tell her he is likely dead and has been swept out to sea. Although she believes her son is still alive, her search for him remains unsolved. Meanwhile, Ledgard subjects him to a vaginoplasty and later instructs him how to slowly stretch his new vagina. Over a period of six years, Ledgard physically transforms Vicente into a replica of his late wife, and renames him Vera. During this period of time, Vicente struggles to keep himself sane and cling to the core of his true identity.

After an absence of four years, Marilia returns to work in Ledgard's house to look after Vera (Vicente). Vera reveals to Marilia that he has been held captive for the last six years.

Back in the present, Ledgard's new relationship with Vera dismays Marilia, who does not trust Vera. Fulgencio, one of Ledgard's colleagues, reads a news story about the missing Vicente and recognizes him as one of their sex change patients. He accuses Ledgard of falsifying Vicente's consent and of experimenting on him. Vera, who overhears their conversation, tells Fulgenico that he is the missing Vicente and in support of Ledgard, states that he is here by his own free will. After Fulgenico leaves, Vera notices a photograph of himself as Vicente attached to the news story about missing persons. During the night, Ledgard and Vera start having sex, but Vera tells him that it is still painful after Zeca's rape. Ostensibly going downstairs to find lubricant, Vera retrieves Ledgard's gun and kills him. Marilia, alerted by the sound of the shot, barges into the bedroom with her own pistol in hand and finds her son Ledgard dead on the bed. Vera, who is hiding under the bed, shoots and kills Marilia. With her final breath, Marilia says "I knew it."

Freed from captivity at last, Vicente returns to his mother's dress shop for the first time since being kidnapped. Tearfully, he tells his lesbian ex-colleague Cristina (whom Vicente had loved six years prior) of his kidnapping, forced sex change, and the murders. As his mother enters the room, Vicente quietly reveals his identity to them in the final line of the film—"I am Vicente."



Pedro Almodóvar read Thierry Jonquet's Tarantula approximately ten years before the film premiered. He described what attracted him in the novel as "the magnitude of Doctor Ledgard's vendetta".[8] 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.[8]

The director announced the project in 2002, when he envisioned Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz in the film's two leading roles, but eventually cast Banderas and Elena Anaya.[9] 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.[2]

Principal photography began 23 August 2010 and ended almost four months later.[2][10] Filming locations included Santiago de Compostela, Madrid, and a country house outside Toledo.[2]


Cast and director at the Cannes Film Festival premiere; from left to right at forefront: Blanca Suárez, Jan Cornet, Elena Anaya, Almodóvar, Antonio Banderas, Marisa Paredes and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

The film premiered on 19 May 2011 in competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.[11] 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.[12] In Spain it premiered on 2 September 2011.[10] The film was released in the United States on 14 October the same year in a limited run through Sony Pictures Classics[13] following its American premiere at the 49th New York Film Festival on 12 October 2011.[14]

Critical reception[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an 81% approval rating based on reviews from 177 critics, with an average rating of 7.5 out of 10. The site's summary reads "The Skin I Live In lacks Almodovar's famously charged romance, replaced with a wonderfully bizarre and unpredictable detour into arthouse ick".[15] 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."[16] 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."[17]

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."[18]

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:[19]

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."[20] The New Yorker ranked the film at No. 25 on their list of "The 26 best films of 2011".[21]


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
Actors and Actresses Union Awards[22][23] Best Film Actress in a Leading Role Elena Anaya Nominated
Best Film Actor in a Leading Role Antonio Banderas Nominated
Best Film Actress in a Minor Role Marisa Paredes Nominated
Susi Sánchez Nominated
Best New Actor Jan Cornet Won
Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Australian Film Critics Association Best Overseas Film (English Language)[24][25] Nominated
BAFTA Awards Best Film Not in the English Language Won
British Independent Film Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Pedro Almodóvar Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Cinema Writers Circle Awards Best Actress Elana Anaya Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Best Editing Nominated
Best Score Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film Won
European Film Awards Best Composer Nominated
Best Production Nominated
Fangoria Chainsaw Awards Best Actor Antonio Banderas Won
Best Foreign Film 3rd place
Best Supporting Actress Elena Anaya 3rd place
Best Screenplay Nominated
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Fotogramas de Plata Best Actress Elena Anaya Won
Best Actor Antonio Banderas Nominated
Golden Globes Best Foreign Film Nominated
Goya Awards Best Actress Elena Anaya Won
Best Make-Up Won
Best New Actor Jan Cornet Won
Best Score Won
Best Actor Antonio Banderas Nominated
Best Cinematography Nominated
Best Costume Design Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Editing Nominated
Best Film Nominated
Best New Actress Blanca Suárez Nominated
Best Production Nominated
Best Production Supervision Nominated
Best Screenplay Nominated
Best Sound Nominated
Best Effects Nominated
London Critics Circle Film Awards Foreign Film of the Year Nominated
Technical Achievement of the Year Nominated
Online Film Critics Society Awards Best Foreign Film Nominated
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Foreign Film Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Film Won
Best Actress Elena Ayana 2nd Place
Saturn Award Best International Film Won
Best Actor Antonio Banderas Nominated
Best Make-Up Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Elena Anaya Nominated
Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 2nd Place
Spanish Actors Union Best Male Newcomer Jan Cornet Won
Best Female Performance Elena Ayana Nominated
Best Male Performance Antonio Banderas Nominated
Best Female in Minor Performance Marisa Paredes Nominated
Best Female in Minor Performance Susi Sánchez Nominated
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film Won
World Soundtrack Awards 2012 Best Composer of the Year Alberto Iglesias Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Foreign Language Film Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "La piel que habito – The Skin I Live In (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d e Ríos Pérez, Sergio (23 August 2010). "Shooting starts on Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In". Cineuropa. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  3. ^ The Skin I Live In at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ "The Skin I Live In (2010) - Pedro Almodóvar". AllMovie.
  5. ^ Goodman, Lanie (20 May 2011). "Pedro Almodovar Dissects His New Film 'The Skin I Live'". The Wall Street Journal.
  6. ^ Ríos Pérez, Sergio (5 May 2010). "Álmodovar, Bayona make 'ambitious, high-quality European films from Spain'". Cineuropa. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  7. ^ "Dr. Almodóvar". New York. 21 August 2011. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  8. ^ a b Suárez López, Gonzalo (19 May 2011). "Interview with Pedro Almodóvar". Cineuropa. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  9. ^ Pablos, Emiliano de (9 June 2010). "Almodovar adds Anaya to 'La piel'". Variety. Retrieved 9 December 2010.
  10. ^ a b Ríos Pérez, Sergio (10 January 2011). "Almodóvar wraps shooting on 'intense drama' The Skin I Live In". Cineuropa. Retrieved 10 January 2011.
  11. ^ "Horaires 2011" (PDF). (in French). Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  12. ^ "The Skin I Live In". Screenrush. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  13. ^ "The Skin I Live In". Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  14. ^ ""A Dangerous Method" & "The Skin I Live In" Announced As Galas at 49th NYFF". Film Society of Lincoln Center. 15 August 2011. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  15. ^ "The Skin I Live In (LA PIEL QUE HABITO) (2011)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  16. ^ Honeycutt, Kirk (19 May 2011). "The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito): Cannes 2011 Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
  17. ^ Gritten, David (19 May 2011). "Cannes 2011: The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito), review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  18. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (25 August 2011). "The Skin I Live In – review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 August 2011.
  19. ^ Dargis, Manohla (13 October 2011). "A Beautiful Prisoner Lost in Almodóvar's Labyrinth". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 March 2012.
  20. ^ Stevens, Dana (13 October 2011). "The Skin I Live In". Slate. Retrieved 10 March 2012.
  21. ^ "The 26 best films of 2011". The New Yorker. 7 December 2011.
  22. ^ "XXI Premios de la Unión de Actores". Fotogramas. 7 June 2012.
  23. ^ "XXI Premios de la Unión de Actores". Fotogramas. 19 June 2012.
  24. ^ "AFCA unveils film award nominees, writing winners". If Magazine. 15 February 2012. Archived from the original on 22 November 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
  25. ^ "AFCA 2012 Writing & Film Award Winners". Australian Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on 22 November 2017. Retrieved 22 November 2017.


External links[edit]