'Skin': Bodily Harm
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 4, 2004; Page WE59
French writer-director Marina de Van's first attempt at feature filmmaking -- which follows an emotionally disturbed woman's obsession with the mutilation of her own flesh -- could have been a serious attempt to shed light, through exaggeration, on the problem of negative body image among women. As it is, it's a silly, if simultaneously deadpan and stomach-churning, psychological portrait of one crazy lady.
That would be Esther (de Van), a slender, moderately attractive young woman who, after accidentally gashing her leg in a fall, begins opening additional wounds on other parts of her body with knives, forks, bits of rusty metal and her own teeth. Eventually -- okay, pretty darn quickly -- she alienates her boyfriend (Laurent Lucas), when he begins to see through the elaborate ruses she stages to explain away her injuries, such as faking a car accident. (And the teeth marks got there how?) After a while, she's slicing, dicing, peeling and nibbling at her body like a psychotic animal in a trap, resorting to carrying patches of her own bloody skin around with her in her wallet. Before long, she's jabbing cutlery into her arms while entertaining clients from the office, then not showing up for work at all, giving new meaning to the phrase "calling in sick."
At times, "In My Skin," brushes up against some intriguing ideas, such as when it becomes clear that Esther simply cannot feel her own body. Such disconnection from her flesh, which she pulls and prods in the bathtub as though it were so much bread dough, certainly suggests more widespread problems, such as anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder, but de Van never really takes these ideas as far as she might, preferring to linger instead on Esther as a singular case history. Part of Visions Bar Noir's "Truly Shocking Showcase" (see also capsule review of "Tattoo"), "In My Skin" suffers from relying too heavily on the claustrophobic locus implied by its title. If de Van had pulled back from her cinematic navel gazing, not to mention thigh noshing, to reveal insights into behaviors that are far more common, if no less revolting, "In My Skin" might have had the universal resonance it sometimes seems to aspire to, instead of remaining the diary of a loony tune with a taste for steak tartare.
IN MY SKIN (Unrated, 93 minutes) --Contains blood, close-ups of bloody wounds, obscenity, self-inflicted violence, nudity and sensuality. In French with subtitles. At Visions Bar Noir.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company