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With: Javier Bardem, Jordi Mollà, Ariadna Gil, Cecilia Roth, Mercedes Sampietro, Javier Albalá, Adrian Sac, Cristina Espinosa, Pilar Castro, Ramiro Alonso, Silvia Espigado, Carmen Grey, Ángela Rosal, Luis B. Santiago, Christian Queipo
Written by: Ángeles González Sinde
Directed by: Gerardo Vera
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content and some language
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 100
Date: 03/18/2013
IMDB

Second Skin (1999)

1 Star (out of 4)

'Skin' Irritation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Second Skin (a.k.a. Segunda piel) gives itself away as a cheap, phony melodrama within its first sixty seconds. Elena (Ariadna Gil) works as a professional graphic designer. The camera watches close-up as she mixes several shades of paint. But then she suddenly stops right in the middle to make a phone call, asking her husband to pick up some food for dinner that night.

It's hard to explain why this first 60 seconds bugged me. Firstly, Elena's work doesn't seem to mean that much to her that she'd interrupt it for such an ordinary phone call. (Why would she mix all that paint, then let it dry there?) Secondly, the mere ordinariness of the phone call immediately and obviously suggests that something is wrong with Elena's marriage.

But the filmmaker, Gerardo Vera, isn't perceptive enough to know that we know this, so he continues on, feeling his way through the proverbial dark. I'm dreadfully sorry to say that the rest of Second Skin's 100 minutes play as badly as its first one minute.

Elena's husband, Alberto Garcia (Jordi Mollà) shows up late that night for dinner, and Elena suspects that he's having an affair with another woman. Not so. Instead, Alberto secretly carries on with another man, Diego (Javier Bardem).

The first half of the movie shows poor, conflicted Alberto trying to lie to his wife and still manage to see Diego on the side. After everything comes out in the open, Alberto still can't decide what he wants and begins flip-flopping between his wife (with whom he has a child) and Diego.

Meanwhile, Diego is so upset by this situation that he can't even concentrate at work. Unfortunately, his work is as a surgeon! (The scene borders on something out of The Naked Gun.) His co-worker Eva (Cecila Roth, from Almodovar's All About My Mother) warns him to stay away from Alberto and keep his mind on his operations.

At the same time, Elena's mother admits to Elena that she also doesn't like Alberto. I didn't like Alberto either, and I wanted him to go away. He walks around for the whole movie with a three-day scruff and red, bleary eyes -- as if he's been on a coke binge. I can't imagine why anyone would find him attractive, or even interesting.

The movie ends Alberto's conflict with a horrible, laughable conclusion that wouldn't have even passed muster on a daytime soap opera. At one point I thought the proceedings could have been improved if everyone were wearing bumblebee suits, like on the Spanish-language television station that Homer Simpson so enjoys.

In addition to the overcooked, ham-fisted direction, which has all the actors reaching for the back row, the dialogue sounds like horrible poetry -- a college freshman's idea of depth -- with lines about "the end of the ocean." The piano-and-flute score pounds at our temples, and the film's conversations are pitched directly at the audience instead of among the characters.

It seems to me that director Vera and writer Ángeles González Sinde are trying to channel Pedro Almodovar and make a slick soap opera. But Almodovar himself channeled Douglas Sirk, who channeled John Stahl. You simply can't copy anything more -- there's just nothing left. The carbon is worn out.

Fans of gay cinema will want to know, however, that Vera manages to shoot one very good sex scene between Bardem and Mollà that -- depending on your point of view -- might be worth the price of admission.

It should be noted that Javier Bardem made Second Skin before last year's Before Night Falls, for which he was nominated for an Oscar for his stellar performance. Second Skin is probably now seeing the light of day based on his newfound stardom. It might have behooved Bardem's career if he had lobbied for it to stay unreleased.

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