Review Index


The year 2003 saw more than its share of nasty films, horror and otherwise: IRREVERSIBLE, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, FREDDY VS. JASON, CABIN FEVER, KILL BILL VOL. 1, IN THE CUT and the new TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE are just a few of ‘03’s over-the-toppers.  Deciding on the most offensive of them is a difficult task, but I feel confident in naming the little-seen French import IN MY SKIN (DANS MA PEAU) as the year’s all around nastiest film.  Focusing on the scarcely explored topic of self-mutilation, it’s uncompromising and undeniably provocative, though only the most jaded viewers need apply.

The Package
     This classic of why-am-I-watching-this??? cinema began as a short by writer-director-star Marina De Van (whose previous experience was as a screenwriter on the Francois Ozon films UNDER THE SAND and 8 WOMEN), who kept adding onto her film and eventually ended up with a feature.  The resulting depictions of disturbingly realistic self-mutilation and auto cannibalism—foregoing special effects, De Van actually cut herself for many of the film’s most gruesome scenes—have stunned audiences at film festivals around the world.  Faintings have been common, as have mass walkouts and vomiting in the aisles.  Even I found the film hard to watch—and harder to forget—which believe me is saying an awful lot! 

The Story
     Esther, a young professional woman, accidentally injures her leg at a party one night.  Although the wound is a pretty severe one, she barely feels it, at least until she examines it up close, and even then her primary reaction is one of curiosity rather than pain or horror.  She later finds herself picking at the cut in times of stress or agitation and even creates a new gash she can jab and poke at. 
     This is the start of an all-consuming obsession which grows to such an extent that in the midst of a business dinner Esther can barely keep from hacking at one of her arms under the table; she ends up checking into a hotel where she spends the remainder of the night ecstatically slicing and gnawing her afflicted arm nearly to the bone.  The following day she stages a phony car accident to appease her understandably distraught boyfriend, but her next bout of mutilation is even more severe.  This time Esther slashes her face, takes numerous photos of her wounds and cuts a large patch of knee skin that she keeps stuck to one of her breasts.  Another, even more apocalyptic slash-a-thon is imminent--the final scene is an open-ended one, but the suggestion seems to be that Esther takes her obsession to its logical, deadly conclusion.

The Direction 
     The opening scenes are somewhat clumsy, and require a leap of faith on the part of the viewer to stay with the picture: the visuals are flat and uninspiring and the tone far too matter-of-fact to evoke much interest.  But Marina De Van’s power grows as her film ventures deeper into its disturbed heroine’s subjective reality, utilizing surrealism (in a striking sequence where Esther’s left arm literally breaks off, much to her surprise and fascination) and postproduction trickery (split screen, etc.) to convey Esther’s increasing disassociation from the world around her (which incidentally reminded me somewhat of CARNIVAL OF SOULS and the profound isolation of that film’s undead heroine).
     Intriguingly, De Van never divulges any conventional explanation for her character’s mental state—there are no childhood flashbacks or explanatory narration to be had here (which has given rise to a variety of disparate interpretations from critics and viewers).  The film doesn’t fit into any sort of genre niche, be it exploitation, social commentary or cautionary tale.  One thing is for certain, though: De Van seems determined to create a serious, thought-provoking drama.  Despite all the grotesquerie, her film never feels gratuitous or excessive, nor does it ever appear to advocate Esther’s ugly practices (ominous horror movie music often wells up whenever she spots a sharp object).  This leaves the question of why De Van wanted to make the movie in the first place, or—something I was admittedly asking myself throughout—why anyone really needs to view this traumatizing orgy of poking, cutting and bleeding.  That’s entertainment...I guess. 

Vital Statistics

Lazennec et Associes

Director: Marina De Van
Producer: Laurence Farenc
Screenplay: Marina De Van
Cinematography: Pierre Barougier
Editor: Mike Fromentin
Cast: Marina De Van, Laurent Lucas, Lea Drucker, Thibault De Montalembert, Dominique Reymond, Bernard Alane, Marc Rioufol, Francois Lamotte, Adrien De Van, Alain Rimoux, Thomas De Van

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