In My Skin

At one time or another, everyone feels disassociated with his or her body, whether through sickness, injury, or even an ordinary dentist's appointment, when a shot of novocaine can make sensitive gums feel like a wooden post. However common, it's frightening to have some or all of the body not cooperate, because it's such a substantial part of how people identify themselves. Or as Marina de Van, the first-time director and star of the unsettling psychodrama In My Skin puts it, "If I am no longer my body, what am I?" Drawing from the body horror of David Cronenberg and the feminine paranoia of Roman Polanski's Repulsion, de Van shares her subversive cine-literacy with frequent collaborator François Ozon, having co-written his Under The Sand and 8 Women and starred in See The Sea. Playing a bright young analyst unhinged by a gruesome leg abrasion, de Van departs from her directorial influences by reversing the usual cause and effect: Instead of the wound representing a physical manifestation of her already tormented psyche, its appearance draws a seemingly ordinary woman into madness. With a chilling, matter-of-fact tone that slips neatly into moments of deadpan comedy, In My Skin observes its heroine's self-mutilation with suitable detachment, as if she were a child toying with a half-chewed meal. In the opening minutes, de Van appears headed for a stable, comfortable middle-class existence, due to move up another rung on the corporate ladder and split an apartment with her caring boyfriend Laurent Lucas. But after a fall leaves a deep gash on her ankle, discouraging setbacks in the recovery process turn de Van against her maligned body, piquing a morbid curiosity that begins with innocent pinching and caressing, then grows much grislier. Soon enough, her fascination and revulsion leads her to horrific sessions where she attacks herself with a steak knife, collects flaps of severed skin, and opens up new wounds all over her body. Of course, she still has to explain things to Lucas and the people at work, creating situations that are darkly funny in melding rational and irrational behavior: Covered head to toe in her own blood, de Van can still make reassuring cell-phone calls explaining why she can't make it to the office that day. The absurdity reaches an especially inspired peak at an important business dinner, where she's distracted by the hallucinatory vision of her severed left forearm flopping on the table. Perhaps the most viscerally disturbing splatter movie since Claire Denis' underrated Trouble Every Day, In My Skin makes heavy demands of even jaded viewers, who are unlikely to stomach de Van's anatomical noodling from the same curious distance. But for the brave, the film's literal journey to find the "I" inside the body moves forward with a riveting single-mindedness.

Filed Under: Film

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