In My Skin

In My Skin
Film review by: Witney Seibold

In My Skin
We are all curious about our bodies. Every time I hear mention of a human’s inability to kiss their own elbow, someone in the room will indeed try. If you did just now, don’t be embarrassed. People often display their little body abilities. An ear wiggle, or putting your leg behind your head. The curiosity can sometimes be painful, but it doesn’t stop us. A stretch too far, a pick at a scab, a poke at one’s own eye. Just to see what happens. A chew of dry skin, perhaps. A poke with a pencil. I once used a compass point to bore a hole through my thumbnail. Not to be masochistic at all. Just because I hadn’t done it. Marina de Van’s new film “In My Skin” is about that curiosity, taken to a profound and horrific level. It’s also one of the most chilling, difficult-to-watch, and disturbingly brilliant films I have seen.

De Van plays Esther, a woman who works in an unremarkable office job, has a typical friendship with Sandrine (Léa Drucker), and is tottering on living with her boyfriend (Laurent Lucas). At a party, she stumbles in the backyard. She discovers later that she gashed her leg open. It’s bad. Rather than letting it heal, she studies her wound. Picks at it. A few days later, at work, she locks herself into a supply closet, strips her pants, and makes a further gouge on her leg with a scrap of metal. She feels nothing. Her cuts and pokes and prods only escalate in severity from then on. The details are gruesome; I shall not relate them. And it’s fascinating.

There is a brilliant scene later on when she is at a dinner with some prospective clients. She listens silently to their inane rambling about this-and-that. During the meal, she begins uncontrollably grabbing her entree. When she looks down at her arm, she discovers it no longer attached to her body. This is a scene worthy of Buñuel.

Why does she do this? Why is she mutilating her body? Why does she rent hotel rooms specifically to go on orgies of self-violence? The film offers no explanation other than what’s on the surface, and I think that’s sufficient. She is numbed by the world, and deals with her body in the most elemental way. As humans, we tend to make our bodies abstract or mythic or sensual. A touch has meaning, or your looks stir others. “In My Skin” offers a more basic truth. We are parts. Arms, legs, skin, hair. We have bodies before we have anything else, and Marina de Van has given us one of the best films of the year exploring that.

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Published in: on August 13, 2009 at 1:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

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