The Skin I Live In – Interview with José Luis Alcaine

Local News

A few weeks ago, the Debrecen audience could see Pedro Almodóvar’s film The Skin I Live In in Apollo Cinema. The cinematographer of the film, José Luis Alcaine, shot  Fernando Colomo’s next film, Picasso’s Gang in Budapest. The Spanish Alcaine is best known for working with director Pedro Almodóvar on The Skin I Live In, Volver, Bad Education and the Oscar-nominated Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
In his interview with [origo]’s journalist Zsuzsanna Lavicska he talked about his relationship with Almodóvar, about why actresses love him and how Antonio Banderas was struggling to acclimatise to the film The Skin I Live In.In the 80s and 90s he photographed many films for the great rebels of Spanish cinema, like Pedro Almodóvar and Bigas Luna. When asked about his experiences of this time he said, “Sometimes we ended shooting a film on Saturday, and started the next one on Monday. It was really exciting, since these films are very different from one another. The cinematography of Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has nothing in common with those of Belle époque or Jamón, Jamón“. He liked to work with Bigas Luna, and they cooperated very well, but he enjoyed photographing the bad films too. “Anyway, I learned much more from the bad ones than from the good ones.”

For Almodovar, The Skin I Live In is the fifth film he photographed. Their collaboration began in 1986, but after Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! in 1990, it took 14 years to start working together again. But as he said, they had no hard feelings. “We were like a divorced couple who met many years after the separation. When the producer of Bad Education called me and asked if I had any objection to working with Pedro again, I said ‘No’ without hesitation.”

Pedro Almodóvar is not the only one Alcaine has an ongoing creative relationship with. He was there when Antonio Banderas’ career started and at the shooting of The Skin I Live In they met again. “Antonio is a great guy but, admittedly, it was very hard to approach his character. Not understanding what Pedro wanted him to do made him feel bad, still, he tried to do his best. Previously, he’d specialised in playing in quite different kinds of films for years and tended to overplay the role, while Pedro tried to tone it down. Antonio said he only understood what Pedro was talking about when he saw the film in Cannes.”

In making The Skin I Live In there was a great deal of intuition involved. During the shoot, Alcaine said, they were trying not to establish anything beforehand but to create the scenes each day. As for the cinematography, it was an overnight decision. At first, they didn’t know how they wanted to visualize the unique structure of the film as it starts like a melodrama and goes almost romantic to end as a film noir. “Nowaday’s films are overly explained. We decided to not give any indication with the photography of where the story is going to go.”

Alcaine is also known for his concern for the beauty of the actresses which makes him very popular among them. No one ever complained – except Victoria Abril. “Victoria Abril is a great actress and when she asked me to photograph her more beautiful, she was over 40 and her character shouldn’t be too pretty. But after she asked I tried my best.” “I grew up seeing the films from the 40s and the 50s, in which the actresses were shot like goddesses, and you had to fall in love with them. I see that it’s not important anymore but I miss it so I try to bring back the glamour to the cinema.”

Picasso’s Gang (La banda Picasso) was shot in Budapest from November 8 to December 17 and is now in post-production. The movie is based on the true story about the theft of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa picture from the Louvre in 1911, a crime for which Pablo Picasso and his friend French poet Guillaume Apollinaire were framed.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) was nominated for Golden Globe in Best Foreign Film and for Goya Award in 16 category.

Full interview in Hungarian:

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