- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2011

CANNES, FRANCE (AP) - After decades of playing Hollywood Latin lovers, Spanish heartthrob Antonio Banderas returns to his roots _ and the director who helped launch his career _ with a slow-burning role in Pedro Almodovar’s “The Skin I Live In.”

Banderas was an early muse of the acclaimed filmmaker, but it’s been 22 years since the two luminaries of Spanish cinema worked together.

“It’s part of my life…. I could almost compare it to a return to my country, to my roots, with all its misery, with all its greatness, all its contradictions and everything that goes along with that” Banderas said at a news conference at the Cannes Film Festival, where the movie screened Thursday. “That’s what returning to Almodovar is, a homecoming.”

And what a homecoming it is.

In “The Skin I Live In,” Banderas plays a psychotic plastic surgeon who devises a Machiavellian plot to exact revenge on the man he believes raped his daughter. Cold and calculating, Banderas‘ character Robert wears an impassive mask of icy sternness throughout the film.

The restrained performance _ one of his strongest since his Almodovar days _ contrasts with the exuberance and oozing charm of his Hollywood characters.

“The spectators discover that this is a tormented character as the story goes along, but without any grand gestures, no great things in front of the camera,” Banderas said.

Banderas‘ restrained performance also contrasts with his early work with Almodovar, where he played a boy-toy in 1988’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and a toreador in training in the 1986 “Matador,” among other flamboyant roles.

With a cast that also includes another of the filmmaker’s old school favorites, Marisa Paredes, “The Skin I Live In” is classic Almodovar at his best.

The themes that have obsessed Almodovar since his first experiments in cinema in late-1970s Madrid _ obsession, gender-bending, family secrets _ are all here, worked masterfully into a roller-coaster plot.

A loose adaptation of the novel by French author Thierry Jonquet, the movie is a bloodless thriller that keeps audiences’ knuckles white without drenching them in gore.

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