Color, 1999, 110 mins.

Directed by Gerardo Vera

Starring Javier Bardem, Jordi Molla, Ariadna Gil, Cecilia Roth / Written by Ángeles González Sinde / Music by Roque Baños / Cinematography by Júlio Madurga

Format: DVD - Manga (Spain - PAL Region Free)

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

You would think that movies had exhausted all the possibilities of that reliable standby, the romantic triangle, and as Second Skin (Segunda Piel) proves, you'd be right. This time the catalyst is Alberto Garcia (Jordi Molla), an aerodynamics engineer whose marriage to beautiful graphic artist Elena (Belle Epoque's Ariadna Gil) is slowly crumbling. While she struggles to hold their house and marriage together, not to mention the day to day maintenance of their young son, he's becoming more distant by the day. Things get worse when she picks up her husband's dry cleaning and finds a mysterious hotel bill, indicating he's most likely having an affair. When she confronts him, Alberto brusquely confesses to a one night stand with a female acquaintance from school, which couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact the third party is Diego (Before Night Falls' Javier Bardem), a good natured surgeon who has no idea his beloved is leading a double life, despite the fact that Alberto never bothers to stick around to eat dinner or spend the night. When Alberto and Diego finally take off together for a medical conference, Diego's best friend and colleague, Eva (All About My Mother's Cecilia Roth), smells a rat. How long can the two parallel relationships hold out before everything goes straight to hell?

The glossy bisexual tragedy has been a movie staple dating back at least to John Schlesinger's 1971 depressfest, Sunday Bloody Sunday, though American cinema has generally veered away from anything this controversial aside from the justifiably forgotten Making Love. What sets Second Skin apart from run of the mill soap opera junk is the pedigree of talent involved; frankly, without this talented quartet of actors involved (though Roth is basically a glorified cameo), the film would collapse under the weight of its own sense of melodrama. It's especially infuriating how two intelligent characters can become so enamored of Alberto, who's such a drab, sullen jerk that he really doesn't deserve either of them. Director Gerardo Vera, better known as a production designer on numerous Spanish productions, gives every scene a glossy, colorful look, sort of a cross between Almodovar and Maxim, aided immensely by his intelligent use of scope framing. It's also quite odd to see Bardem and Molla, last seen together as the two macho stars of Jamón Jamón bashing each other over the head with giant hambones, going at it between the sheets here instead. Of course, this being a European film, the sex scenes of various persuasions are graphic enough to merit an NC-17 rating over here, but it's all kept tasteful and sensitive enough. Watch this on a double bill with Happy Together, which paired up two of Hong Kong's biggest male stars under similar circumstances, for an unforgettable international double feature.

The Manga DVD of Second Skin looks pretty good overall, with a colorful 16x9 transfer. The compression job slips up a few times, notably during a smoky nightclub sequence early on that turns into a series of dancing cubist blocks in the background. At least the disc's quality accurately captures the strong visuals of the film, particularly the stunning opening credits sequence, a Maurice Binder style series of azure X-rays which blossom into various tableaux like motorcycles and flowers (watch the film to find out why). The 5.1 sound mix mostly emphasizes the beautiful score by Roque Baños (in definite John Barry mode), an up and comer who also worked on several Alex de la Iglesia films. The disc includes optional English or Spanish subtitles, a couple of minor deleted scenes containing unsubtitled dialogue, a teaser and theatrical trailer (neither terribly good), and a short behind the scenes featurette.

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