Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In is a film whose glossy surface belies its investment in history—cinema’s history, Spain’s history, transnational history. It tracks a correspondence among cinema, transsexuality, and medium specificity through the trope of transgenesis: skin has been manufactured by the film’s plastic surgeon to cover the character upon whom he has also forced a sex change. The transgenic skin is also produced extratextually, by way of a digital effect that implicates cinema’s analog-to-digital transformation. Both of these technological transformations—the cinematic and the biological—carry with them ethical and political implications, which are explored in the film. For this purpose, the article contends that Almodóvar brings his own cinematic language to its limit, particularly around his representation of transsexuality, as if to point us toward the limit that a politics of representation has reached in our increasingly biopolitical environment. The article argues that the film’s digitization of artificial skin functions as an anchor for a complex imagining of the sociopolitical contexts that bind identity to history. The surface of the skin, as deployed in the film, melds political and cinematic memory to resurrect traces of repressed histories and absent bodies, allowing Almodóvar to build a transtemporal and transnational allegorical universe that moves against the grain of the loss of history that cinema’s digital transformation purportedly represents.
Carla Marcantonio; Cinema, Transgenesis, and History in The Skin I Live In. Social Text 1 March 2015; 33 (1 (122)): 49–70. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2831868
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