In My Skin

(Dans Ma Peau)

It takes a lot these days for a film to be genuinely unnerving, and In My Skin is a film that has what it takes. Writer/director Maria de Van (Alias, Pay Show) takes a controversial subject, cutting, and makes a film that is grotesquely disgusting to watch. At the same time, it is difficult to turn away from what is going on screen. De Van plays Esther, who, at the beginning of the film trips and cuts her leg at a party. She fails to notice the wound until much later, and by that time, her entire leg is bloody from a gash that is quite large. The odd part is that she didn't feel any pain. She only noticed the wound because she saw tracks of blood on a carpet and wondered where they came from.

Esther goes to a doctor who stitches her up and then tells her that she may need some cosmetic surgery to make her leg look normal. The next day, she strips off her bandages and begins picking at her wound. As time goes on, it just gets worse. Her friend Sandrine (Lea Drucker, Chaos, Maybe) has no clue what to do and pushes her away. Her boyfriend Vincent (The Pornographer, With a Friend Like Harry) wants to help, but Esther keeps pushing her away. In a sense, it is frustrating that de Van never tries to explain why Esther is doing this, but her focus is on how it affects Esther (this is very different from her last work, co-writing the bizarre 8 Women).

There are long, uninterrupted scenes of Esther mutilating herself. It starts off relatively innocuous (remember, relatively), then gets progressively worse. By the end of In My Skin, the de Van approaches the absurd, with scenes of self-cannibalization (is that even a word?). There is little else to the film except for this self-inflicted violence. The Esther character has no other substance, she just spends her days in a daze. The only thing that brings her out of this stupor is cutting. It brings a sense of excitement to her dreary life, and she goes about it with a meticulous precision.

When she cuts herself, it's as if Esther is in a different sort of daze; she focuses completely at the task on hand. Her eyes open in wonder as she peels off skin and watches the blood run down her legs. The cutting turns into an obsession that takes over her life; she feels compelled to cut herself often, whether she is at home, work, or dinner. She begins lying to her friends to gain some alone time to cut herself some more, and like an actual drug, needs to go further each time to regain her high. Thanks to some disturbing cinematography, de Vans allows the viewer to see what Esther sees, and it is probably more than enough to make some people sick. In My Skin also functions as a piece of performance art, and at times feels a tad pretentious. But no matter what, it is hard to turn away from.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 33 minutes, French with English subtitles, Not rated but contains nudity, language, and graphic scenes of self-mutilation, probably an NC-17, possibly an R.

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