Pedro Almodóvar is best known for his portrayals of strong women in films such as Volver and All About My Mother. In The Skin I Live In the darling of modern Spanish cinema folds his usual themes in on themselves in a self-reflexive journey into the very heart of what it means to exist, the morality of transgenesis, and even revenge.

What results from this implosion; what new matter emerges, is something quite unlike the vast majority of cinema goers will have ever seen. Based on Thierry Jonquet's novel Tarantula, Almodóvar's latest is rich with symbolism, subtext and subtlety. It's his portrayal of the topical yet strangely timeless theme of tampering with the natural order however that sets it apart from its contemporaries so.

The crux of the film is the relationship between Dr. Ledgard, (Antonio Banderas) a man haunted by his tragic past and obsessed with testing his resilient new skin substitute on his human guinea pig (Elena Anaya). Banderas is simmering but sympathetic, a lovable, dangerous middle-aged man with broken wings, and Anaya gives an absolutely scintillating performance as the passively seductive living experiment filled with so much unspoken angst. The entire supporting cast, including Marisa Paredes' touching portrayal of Ledgard’s childhood carer, Blanca Suárez as Ledgard’s beautiful but tragic daughter, and Jan Cornet’s town troublemaker are all, amazingly, almost as memorable as the leads.

To say more of the characters or plot would be to deprive you of a host of expertly crafted twists, spread throughout the film with pinpoint emotive precision. In eschewing entirely the abhorrent Hollywood trend for shock-factor twists that possess all the emotional poignancy of being punched in the face and occur with a crash zoom and barely a breath to take it all in, Almodóvar ensures that you don’t once doubt your intelligence for not seeing it coming sooner. Instead, it’s a seamless continuation of the themes of identity, sacrifice and the perversity of the male gaze that you’re steadily introduced to throughout the film; a heady and masterful technique that made me squirm in my seat.

Perhaps the only flaw in the entire film is this; Almodóvar occasionally requires the audience to make a leap of faith in order to keep some of the characters’ behaviours believable and coherent. As ever with a story transferred onto film however, the characters rich back stories are always more fully mapped out in the head of their creator, and it’s a credit to Almodovar that so much of that richness does make it onto the screen. Yet The Skin I Live In does potentially lack for asking the audience to fill in a few character-motivation gaps themselves. None of said leaps of faith are impossible however, or really hinder emotional investment in the film, and if anything can conversely serve to make you think back all the more on the film.

In short, The Skin I Live In is a heady, touching and ultimately humanistic tragedy with a surprisingly subtle meditative bent. The cinematography, as to be expected, is effortlessly beautiful, subjective and evocative; a perfect counterpoint to themes of identity, sexuality, bioethics and sacrifice.  A dark and affecting masterpiece of modern cinema that I absolutely cannot get out of my head; Almodóvar in the form of his life.