2000, NR, 100 min. Directed by Gerard Vera. Starring Cecilia Roth, Ariadna Gil, Jordi Mollá, Javier Bardem.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., April 12, 2002
Elena (Gil) is the loving wife, unfailingly true to her husband and son. Alberto (Mollá) is the sad-eyed, secretive husband with a pocketful of crumpled hotel bills. Diego (Bardem), a surgeon, is the “other man,” the one that seduces Alberto out of a lifetime of denial. Neither wife nor lover knows of the existence of the other. Second Skin bides its time with this combustible combination, dangling it before the audience like the other shoe that's bound to drop. Director Gerardo Vera is confident with the camera and has an eye for artful composition, a testament to his early days as an art director and stage designer. Would that the rest of his film were equally composed. This Spanish-language film is a turgid, operatic affair, egged on by a musical score that recalls no less than Love Story in all its needling dewiness. The actors, too, suffer under the weight of the unrelenting moroseness. Mollá's Alberto should be the most compelling character here, as a family man caught between the domestic stability he's found with Elena and the monumental joy he finds in Diego's arms. But there's no entryway into Alberto's head, no insight into his conflict, just crying jags, near pathological deceit, and an eventual mental collapse that makes textbook sense but rings ingenuine. More intriguing are Gil and Bardem, as wife versus lover. Gil, with her half-moon bedroom eyes and maternal sensibilities, is a tantalizing confluence of sexuality and nurturing. Her most powerful moment comes early, when the camera fixes on her face and she wavers for what seems like minutes, trying to decide whether or not to bring up the hotel bills or continue to play-act along with Alberto in the hopes his affairs will melt away, that he will return to the domestic bliss she has fashioned for him. Bardem also engages, but he's hampered with the most underwritten role of the lot. So fierce and kinetic in Before Night Falls -- for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, the first Spanish actor to receive that honor -- Bardem is forced to cage the tiger lines of his body into a muted performance, consisting mostly of staring out at the sea moodily, wondering why his lover never invites him back to his place. Eventually Bardem and Gil share the screen together, but it's for an upbeat coda that plays preposterously in a film so hell-bent on doom and gloom. After two hours of Vera's pretty but wet-blanket direction, it's too late to ignite any fireworks, even in the hands of such capable actors.