La Piel Que Habito – The Skin I Live In is a Spanish language thriller adapted from the novel 'Mygale' by Thierry Jonquet. Directed by Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, it tells the story of a surgeon who is pioneering a new type of plastic surgery, and who has a very complicated personal and family life.
The film was submitted to the BBFC in June 2011 with a 15 category request – which is the classification at which it was passed later that same month, for strong sex, sexual violence, brief gore and very strong language. However, before the final classification was given, it was seen by two separate BBFC examining teams, plus the BBFC Director and Presidents. This is because the film was considered to be potentially on the 15/18 borderline, for the issue of sexual violence.
The film contains some strong sex scenes. Although nudity is shown, there is no strong detail, such as sight of genitals. In addition, although the scenes are quite passionate in nature, they are relatively brief. The BBFC's Guidelines at 15 state 'Sexual activity may be portrayed without strong detail'. The film also features some strong verbal sex references, including references to gender reassignment surgery.
The film contains a scene in which a man forces himself on a woman who then appears to consent to sexual activity. In the past, this type of scene has proved controversial, and has even been cut from 18 level works such as the original version of Straw Dogs in the 1970s - although the cuts were reinstated in 2002.
Here, the scene is deliberately ambiguous and complex in its presentation of what is happening. It lacks strong visual detail and much of the sequence is played off faces and dialogue between the pair. As the film progresses, the complicated nature of the characters involved, as well as the unusual situation in which they have found themselves, becomes more apparent. The Guidelines at 15 state 'Any portrayal of sexual violence must be discreet and have a strong contextual justification'.
Elsewhere in the film, it is suggested that another character has been raped. However, when the assault is later shown, the viewer gets greater detail, learning for example that she is on a lot of prescription medication, and the male character she is talking to and kissing has not clearly understood the situation. During sex the woman suddenly becomes agitated and upset – it is not entirely clear if she is having a physical reaction, or becoming alarmed. As she becomes more vocal the male character desists. It could be argued the scene does not actually depict 'sexual violence', but the scene (and the elements of ambiguity over what constitutes informed consent and to what degree the male character is responsible) is crucially important in narrative terms and does not eroticise or endorse sexual violence for the viewer.
The film also contains two subtitled uses of very strong language. In both cases, the word is used in a literal and anatomical sense in order to describe a surgical gender reassignment procedure. The Guidelines at 15 state 'The strongest terms (for example, 'c***') may be acceptable if justified by the context. Aggressive or repeated use of the strongest language is unlikely to be acceptable'. The two uses are not aggressive, nor intended to be insulting, and were considered unlikely to offend the probable audience for the film. There are also several uses of strong language. The Guidelines at 15 state 'There may be frequent use of strong language'.
Other category-defining issues include fleeting gore and some moments of violence, including shootings. Generally, there is no strong detail or sight of injury, although blood is sometimes shown. However, in one scene there is a brief gory image when a person attempts to cut their own throat, resulting in a brief blood spray. The Guidelines at 15 state 'Violence may be strong but should not dwell on the infliction of pain or injury', and so this scene was considered permissible at the 15 level of the other issues in the film.
There are brief references to opium smoking, and to taking pills (both prescription and non-prescription), though drug taking isn’t glamorised or a focus of the work.
La Piel Que Habito – The Skin I Live In went on to be nominated for, and win, several prestigious film awards around the world, including a 2012 BAFTA Film Award for Best Film Not in the English Language. It was selected for Film Education’s Cineschools 2012.