REVIEW: The Skin I Live In

SPOILER ALERT! This post gives away some minor plot elements.

I’ve recently been teaching English as a foreign language to students from Tunisia. One bit of grammar they loved was the past perfect. The flashback tense.

“When we got home last night, I realised that we had been burgled.”
“Walter confessed to his friend that he had murdered Phyllis’s husband for the insurance money.”

The flashback is a standard thriller device; to start at the end and then flash back to the story in the past. In Double Indemnity, for example, the film begins with insurance salesman Walter Neff – broken, bleeding and on the run for murder – confessing to his friend what had happened.

Walking out of the cinema last night, I argued that The Skin I Live In should have started with its final scene (in which a central character is reunited with family). Almodovar’s latest movie uses noir thriller genre devices in abundance – the whodunnit,  the wild expressionist diagonals of its framing, the strong silent man and the mysterious captive woman (close-up on shimmering eyes).

So it seems perverse that the film starts in the middle and – after a good 45 minutes – flashes back into the past, before strolling into the present day. When the title card reads ‘Six years previously’ or whatever, I get that clunk of a suspended disbelief hitting the ground. Which is perhaps the film-makers’ intention.

But my Tunisian students would have enjoyed wrestling with the grammar.

  • “Robert was psychologically damaged because his wife had died in a car crash.”
  • “Vicente was kidnapped several days after he had sexually attacked Norma.”
  • “When he woke up from the anaesthetic, Vicente found that something terrible had happened.”