Year: 2011
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writers: Pedro Almodovar, adapted from the novel Tarantula, by Thierry Jonquet
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
35mm,Digital, Color, 117 mins

Synopsis: A brilliant plastic surgeon, haunted by past tragedies, creates a type of synthetic skin that withstands any kind of damage. His guinea pig: a mysterious and volatile woman who holds the key to his obsession. (Source)

Pedro Almodovar’s latest masterpiece (yes, I said it), to its absolute credit, is not a movie that’s easily describable. Fans of the auteur will still find everything that they’ve come to love about the director, themes of passion, desire and identity, yet this is not a movie for everyone. It’s bold, daring and shocking, but all with a purpose that isn’t easily contained, but is forceful and intoxicating in its precision. It’s definitely his take on the horror genre, and comparisons to Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face by way of Oldboy, Splice, a certain Hitchcock film (which will go unnamed for spoilerish reasons), and even Frankenstein, are appropriate even if crude. No one could have approached this subject matter with such a delicate touch, and if you think you can stomach something this bizarre and taboo, then it’s absolutely worth the viewing.

Like any Almodovar movie, when trying to explain what it’s about one can only really describe the movie’s narrative starting point, but never the full breadth of its scope. Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula, the adaptation is at first about Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a famous surgeon determined to create impenetrable skin after a car crash burned his wife to death. He’s methodical, precise, determined, and unquestionably yet poignantly amoral, as he treats his one “caged” patient Vera (Elena Anaya) with the utmost care. She’s locked up seemingly for the purpose of keeping her unharmed, untouched and without flaw. She’s fed lavish meals, and isn’t spiteful or hostile towards her “captivity,” as Ledgard watches her from afar via monitors positioned all over the house. The movie’s main allure is finding out how these two are connected, but to tell you anymore about would do the plot a serious disservice, as each act radically changes the tone and meaning behind every progressive act. The minor flaw of it all is that at first it’s a bit scattershot in its non-linear narrative, yet if you’re patient it shifts into crystal clear clarity by the movie’s mind-blowing end.

What drew me to the movie is its way of dissecting human survival as a common instinctual trait. How is this characteristic manifested in each individual, and what triggers it? Also, what effect does it have on those around them? Besides their obvious bonded condition, the two main characters Robert and Vera are joined together by this same need for survival, only both have completely different reasons for such a necessity. Even though Almodovar’s movies are no stranger to the female form (which you see a lot here), it never feels exploitative and instead, like no movie I’ve ever experienced, he really gets underneath each characters skin (and in turn ours) to show us the differences that make us all similar. Every tool the filmmaker uses to reveal this fundamental truth is near flawless and breathtaking to behold. Be it Robert’s antiseptic surroundings, which speak of his character’s desire to for absolute control, or Vera’s starkly minimal utilitarian cage, the ramifications of which only become apparent as the film’s layers are gradually peeled back, each are two sides of the same coin. Almodovar’s trademark use of the color red is also in full effect. It’s one of my favorite aspects of his movies (that I’ve seen), and due to the muted and cool blue/grey tones, when it comes into play its use is even more shocking, appropriate and freeing.

As for performances, I’d forgotten how potent Antonio Banderas could be. With only his recent and sparse American filmography in mind, it is easy to forget that he can be very commanding and frightening, while still portraying a character that is at once fragile, broken and lost. Besides the movie’s beautiful and masterful direction/execution, Elena Anaya completely dominates the movie as Vera Cruz however, the seemingly at-ease caged bird and object of Banderas’ desire. This movie is all Elena, and it’s one of the most electric (if not the most) performances that I’ve seen all year. Inherent in a single look from her is a gamut of complex emotions so powerful you’d be hard pressed not to feel anything. Her character is rightfully enigmatic and full of duality, but Anaya is more than up to the task with a completely accessible ease.

While this is all I really want to say about the movie, I’ve only scratched the surface. There is a lot more to it than I’m letting on, and it’s a movie that refreshingly challenges you, but most of all makes you feel, all while being wrapped up in one of the most absurd and bizarre narratives you’re likely to ever experience. As for my cryptic and justifiably vague descriptions of the movie’s “ick” factor, you should know that since it’s about a surgeon and his experiments, there are a lot of queasy moments, especially one that elicited audible gasps from the theatre audience I was in. However, those with an open mind and a high threshold for off-kilter absurdity will find an endless amount of things to like and explore.

Crome Rating: 4.7/5

SG