Esther (Marina de Van) inexplicably goes wandering into a friend’s backyard-cum-industrial-graveyard, accidentally cuts her leg, and Cronenbergian malaise quickly sets in. She grows increasingly fascinated with the texture of her skin and proceeds to disfigure and cannibalize herself to the utter mortification of the world around her. How “numb” do you have to be in order not to know that you’ve seriously injured yourself? That’s a question De Van (the director and screenwriter) allows the spectator to ponder from the start, but this move is not as brave as it seems. If there’s a context for Esther’s self-mutilation then de Van chooses to keep things purposefully vague: is it workplace ennui, the joy of shocking her friends, or is it a revolt against the boyfriend that wants to keep her nice and pretty? Because Esther doesn’t exactly derive sexual pleasure from pulling, cutting, licking, and chewing at her skin, comparisons to Cronenberg’s Crash and Claire Denis’s fever-dream Trouble Every Day are probably useless. And because she isn’t tickled inappropriately by numerous men, neither are comparisons to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. Critics will no doubt interpret the bloody, difficult-to-watch In My Skin using any number of feminist models, but that’s to seriously misinterpret the film’s bizarre passivity. Because pleasure, retaliation and self-empowerment aren’t on Esther’s mind, the film demands a more existential reading. De Van posits a strange love story between a woman and her skin, and in Esther’s fascination with surfaces (whether it’s the wood from a bedroom table or the rhetoric of a business dinner) she truly evokes her character’s apparent need to transcend mortal prisons. But de Van, who starred in Francois Ozon’s See the Sea and Sitcom and co-wrote his Under the Sand and 8 Women, is a better theorist than visualist. Her oft-flashy visuals needlessly reinforce her already obvious fascination with all things surface, and there’s certainly no moral plan to her perplexing use of split-screen, which plays out as a vanilla shout-out to Brian De Palma’s brilliant Sisters (pay close attention to the name of the hotel in the film). If there’s an overwhelming sense here that something is trying to break loose from within Esther, there’s no telling where that something wants to run to. This is a problem with a lot of works that deliberately toy with existential ideals: there’s no sense of spiritual consequence.
- 93 min
- Marina de Van
- Marina de Van
- Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker, Thilbault de Montalembert, Dominique Reymond, Bernard Alane, Marc Rioufol
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