Robert, an elegant, wealthy, attractive man -Antonio Banderas in one of his unexpectedly good roles- lives with his faithful housekeeper, Marillia (Marisa Paredes), and observes, on several screens around the villa they are sharing, a mysterious beautiful woman, Vera (Elena Anaya). What strikes us from the very beginning is Vera's tight outfit and her permanent, close scrutiny. But flashbacks into Robert's past, gradually reveal that his wife committed suicide and that he also lost his daughter, Norma. The moment when his frail daughter's psychosis is triggered, introduces to the viewer, Vicente, a young man who works in his mother's dress shop and who, on the occasion of a wedding they take part in, tries to seduce Norma and eventually knocks her unconscious. Later on, Robert kidnaps Vicente and gradually, under false pretences and assisted by his fellow colleague doctors, he changes the boy's sex, turning him into a copy of his late wife. Vicente's being is prisoner in a woman's body but he uses his cunning beauty to make Robert believe he/Vera is in love with him, and, when given the opportunity, shoots both the doctor and Marillia dead and returns to a desperate mother and a dear friend, six years later.
Vera's pose makes you think of a woman who, although trapped into the dark, sick world of Robert Ledgard, appears to be confident and calm, in her body stocking with gloves and booties. However, appearances are misleading and we see her trying to take her life, caught in an atemporal, shivery universe of her own. Elena Anaya's acting is excellent, portraying a man's object of revenge and desire, an obsession that eats him alive. Antonio Banderas's elegant, impenetrable figure hides the a twisted, tormented soul, caught in a chaotic future that feeds on a painful past.
To the unfamiliar eye, this movie may seem twisted and challenging, but to those viewers who have seen movies such Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Laberinto de Pasiones or Kika, the film explores recurrent themes of Almodovar's films such as betrayal, anxiety, loneliness, sexual identity, and death. It is the eternal story of Pygmalion and his beloved creation, Galathea, this object of desire that will consume him and eventually destroy him. Robert's revenge is sweet but gets out of control and turns him into a heartless monster and cold-blooded murderer, a man who is so infatuated with his Vera that he no longer thinks straight when it comes to controlling her everything. He is a voyeuristic man with style, an elegant torturer that Almodovar uses for quick revelations and quirk surprises.
The most remarkable thing, though, about Pedro Almodovar 's film is the web he is so cautiously weaving around the characters and that easily draws in, the viewer, himself. It is a labyrinth of moral questions relating to issues such as culpability and responsibility. Can we point an accusing finger to Vicente's immature, foolish gesture or to Robert's insatiable desire for revenge that led him to this amazing scientific discovery? Can we build our personal success on sheer injustice and on someone else's mistake and rob him of his life? The director does not take any side and, as I have already said in the beginning, is rather concerned with the whole unfolding of events than the result of the process. Unpleasant as the subject may seem, it is a controversial film and the colourful interpretation of Almodovar and the exquisite performances of both Banderas and Anaya make it so worth watching. So what is your favourite Almodovar movie?