Tuesday, March 5, 2013

In My Skin

With most of the movies I've been reviewing over these last few weeks, it doesn't take long to know that you're going to be in for an uncomfortable experience. Even the ones that take some time to get to the nitty gritty (so to speak) usually are titled in such a fashion that you know the subject is usually dire. If you didn't know what this film was about and bopped down to the local independent cinema to check it out, though, you would be in for a nasty surprise.

Marina de Van wrote, directed, and stars. She is a striking woman - tall, lean, and with huge eyes and gaps between her teeth. She's kind of awkward, almost ugly and therefore somewhat charming, kind of like Shelley Duvall. Esther, her character, is someone who has a lot on her plate. She has an intense job where work put in after hours is beneficial to her career trajectory and a boyfriend who demands her attention as well. She doesn't seem abnormally stressed, though, until an accidental injury leads into a new fascination with her flesh and blood. It's like a switch is turned on in her brain that causes her to cut into her body. The several scenes that show this happening I watched through scrunched up eyes. They are harrowing. de Van is great in this role - even in the scenes where no carnage is shown her movements and expressions caused me great discomfort.

There's a pivotal scene where Esther attends a business dinner with important clients and her boss that becomes almost unbearable in a two-tiered fashion. After being talked into having some wine, she appears to let her guard down. Unfortunately for her, this results in her zoning out and dropping the conversational ball more than once - all while carving up her forearm with a knife and then a fork. Your results may vary, but I felt sick to my stomach more than once while watching this movie.

It would be easy to assume that Esther mutilates herself in order to regain some sense of control over her life. However, while she does have pressures in her life, she doesn't really seem to be too weak or overwhelmed to deal with them. She'll argue with her boyfriend, stand up for herself when she feels she's been mistreated by a friend, and lobby to get a promotion rather than simper around and wait to be handed something. It's more like this is a movie about a woman who finds a new hobby. It's just a strongly disturbing one.

In My Skin gets pretty ambiguous by the end. While it seems like there is little hope that her obsession will slow down or at least not end up completely out of control, it's not clear if Esther is dead or alive. The confusing aspects of this film work in its favor. It's disorienting, unpleasant, and fascinating.

Tomorrow: Long Pigs

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