Second Skin

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Second Skin

In many films, unhappy families are easy to spot from the moment they're introduced: They're the ones that seem like they couldn't get any happier, up to the moment they begin to fall apart. Second Skin's IKEA-laden domestic idyll seems too nearly perfect to last past the first reel, and the dissolution begins when Ariadna Gil comes across an incriminating hotel receipt taken from the suit her husband (Jordi Mollà) left at the dry cleaners. Fearing the worst, she begins to seek ways to repair their marriage, never suspecting that the other woman is actually a man (Before Night Falls' Javier Bardem). Director Gerardo Vera's attempt to play this revelation for shock value is the first of several miscalculations in a film that tends to overlook the importance of the "drama" half of the word "melodrama." Mollà's character is left frustratingly underdeveloped, and his dilemma remains vague, even if its outcome stinks of the inevitable. The script by Ángeles González Sinde leaves so many unfilled blanks that Vera's ability to salvage a relatively compelling film from it counts as an accomplishment in itself. With its sweeping camera, vibrant colors, and subtlety-free score by Roque Baños, Second Skin wraps a melodrama in the texture of a thriller, summoning up an atmosphere of dread that recalls François Truffaut's similarly named Hitchcock homage The Soft Skin. But where that film eventually became a thriller, Vera's fails to turn into much at all. In spite of the director's obvious skill and the notable performances from Bardem and Gil, Second Skin is never more than what meets the eye: a fairly conventional drama that, in its worst moments, hearkens back to the tragic queens of the pre-Stonewall era. Vera clearly knows how to construct the framework for a memorable film. When he develops a better sense of how to fill it, he'll be a director worth watching.