Twenty-four hours after the most controversial press conference of the 2011 Festival de Cannes, director Pedro Almodóvar sat at the helm of assembled journalists in the Palais des Festivals. Before asking a more serious question, Showbiz 411‘s Roger Friedman said to the celebrated Spanish filmmaker that he wanted to make sure he wasn’t a Nazi, referencing the now infamous press conference the day before by “Melancholia” director Lars von Trier.
“No,” said Almodóvar in English, smiling. “I don’t think it’s necessary to answer that.”
And with that, Almodóvar proceeded with the press conference in Spanish, giving very detailed answers about his latest film, “The Skin I Live In” (La piel que habito). A significant genre shift from his recent work, “Skin” is a thriller starring his longtime regular Antonio Banderas as Dr. Robert Ledgard, whose wife was burned in a car crash. Obsessed with creating a new skin that could save her, he cultivates his own home laboratory; his goal is to create a manmade skin that both feels natural and is virtually impenetrable from attack.
The film has a series of twists and flashbacks that lead to a crescendo that has divided audiences here in Cannes, with some saying that the director’s latest left them less emotionally attached to the characters compared to his previous work.
Almodóvar suggests that might be intentional. “I wanted [these characters] to have a different set of morals,” he said. “They’re cold and lack feeling.”
“I couldn’t act in the way that I normally do — no smiling or laughing,” said Banderas. “Pedro forbid me to do that. There’s this absolute coldness and a numbness with these characters that’s chilling.”
Almodóvar added that his change in style was consistent with his current feelings. And while the science behind his film may seem fantastic and “thrilling,” it is not out of the question that anything that he depicts in “Skin” could take place.
“It’s a thriller indeed because it fits in with my life at present,” he said through an interpreter. “Throughout my career as a director, I’ve worked in different genres — comedy, drama and now I’m in a thriller period. Through thrillers, you can touch on other types of genre. I don’t think it’s completely necessary to stick to the rules of a type of genre like people naively did in the ’50s.”
Almodóvar said that he was thinking of the ’40s-era thrillers of Fritz Lang and specifically Georges Franju’s “Les yesux sans visage” (Eyes Without a Face) when filming “Skin.”
“It is the only film I had in mind when filming this, but [in other ways] ‘Visage’ doesn’t apply to my film because the science that exists in my film already exists. It is not science fiction.”
Almodóvar said that his brother, producer Agustín Almodóvar, helped research the science behind the plot. This type of gene manipulation, which already occurs in food and animal production, is theoretically possible for humans and that is what he in part wanted to explore in “Skin.”
“Luckily today there are [legal] restraints, but we know that science will transform human beings,” said Almodóvar. “In the future, humans will be genetically different. Thanks to genetics, science can isolate stem cells. We don’t know where we’ll end up.”
[Check out indieWIRE’s review of “The Skin I Live In.”]