Love and Death in Pedro Almodovar

10/17/2011 03:56 pm ET | Updated Dec 15, 2011

Manohla Dargis's review for the New York Times of Pedro Almodovar's film, The Skin I Live In, makes it a Times "critics' choice," as A.O. Scott did Almodovar's previous film, Broken Embraces in 2009. But -- aside from some general comments about Almodovar's oeuvre -- Dargis draws no direct connections between the two films.

These themes are present in both films (as well as in much of Almodovar's work):

  • An inappropriate fascination by a man -- usually marked by discrepancies in age and status -- with a love object (Almodovar: "I am fascinated by actresses," apparently meaning very beautiful ones like Penelope Cruz, who starred in Embraces and three other of his films, and Elena Anaya in Skin)
  • A past tragedy (involving in both Embraces and Skin a car accident) that fundamentally diverts the principals
  • An older female assistant (the protagonist's agent in Embraces and his mother, acting as his housekeeper, in Skin) whose love puts her in conflict with the love object
  • The misfit son of the older woman who intrudes on the plot tangentially (with a drug mishap in Embraces, and much more invidiously in Embraces, where he is also the protagonist's brother)
  • Principals with mauvais fois (bad faith)

But, in Skin, those with bad faith dominant the film, which may explain the high body count. Embraces, while it has tragic elements, is basically a love story -- a sweet one involving people who care for one another. Skin is a tale of perversion and extremity. Between the two films, Almodovar has become more depressed and pessimistic about the human condition. Or else, as an artist, he is simply pursuing an alternative exploration of the same subjects -- human commitment, service to one another, dealing with the pain of the past, and finding in the world a positive place to live and rest.

But rarely has a great artist changed his disposition so radically in consecutive works as Almodovar has between these two films.