Dans Ma Peau | France | 2002 | Directed by Marina de Van
Logline: A woman grows increasingly fascinated and obsessed with injuring and disfiguring herself following her own accident.
Esther (Marina de Van) is a successful corporate business analyst. She has a boyfriend, Vincent (Laurent Lucas), and she enjoys a healthy social life. But one night at a party while wandering in the yard she stumbles and accidentally lacerates her leg. At first she is unaware of the nasty injury, but later on while in the bathroom she notices blood over the carpet, and realises it is her own. She studies her wound, fascinated by the extent of her injury, curious as to why she didn't feel any pain.
Later, Esther finds herself picking at the stitches and fingering the gouges running down her flesh. As a kind of relief from the pressures of her heavy office workload she sneaks away and toys with her damaged self. Soon this preoccupation leads to self-harm, resulting in truly perverse behaviour. Her work colleague, Sandrine (Léa Drucker) is appalled. Her relationship with her boyfriend suffers, as her body horror obsession further intensifies, and the boundaries between her psychological and her physiological worlds collapse.
Esther descends into a very disturbing state of mind of auto-vampirism/auto-cannibalism. Her emotional instability, her psychological perspective on humanity and communication all collide, manifesting themselves in her ability to cross the threshold of pain and embrace her own controlled disfigurement, as a form of escape and release from the overwhelming social pressures that are bombarding her on a daily basis.
Her self-mutilation takes on a sensual exploration that is both carnal and destructive; it is as if she is combing sex and death and controlling them, keeping them both at arm's reach (so to speak), leaving herself balancing on a precarious edge. She can't get enough of her self (literally), yet knows it is inevitable that her behaviour and actions can only go so far before it is too late to stop. But she can't help herself.
After several shorts, and working with Francois Cluzon co-writing several of his movies, In My Skin is Marina de Van's debut feature, from her own screenplay, and playing the harrowing central role, no less! It is quite possibly one of the most confronting films I have ever seen. I'm used to gore on screen, but there were several times during In My Skin that I had to cover my eyes! It's not that the special effects make-up is especially realistic, but, very cleverly, Marina de Van manages to show just enough to warrant an extreme reaction in the viewer, a delicate, but powerful combination of mood, tone, and sound effects.
Indeed, it’s a difficult movie to recommend, truly tough viewing. But it is brilliantly made, and superbly acted. The overall tone (even the pitch-black humour), and the director’s approach to the subject matter, is reminiscent of the style and intent of the two Davids, Cronenberg and Lynch. If you're at all squeamish, stay well away. Yet in dealing with the fragility and perversity of the human condition, In My Skin is strangely, hypnotically rewarding.
The movie finishes abruptly, an existential nightmare. Marina de Van doesn't offer a rationale behind Esther's behaviour - which is both the film's strength and weakness - yet she has gone to some lengths to purge her own inner demons, delivering a thoroughly disturbing and frequently ghastly portrait of one woman's slide into madness, and suggests we are an inherently lonely race, constantly looking for love and acceptance, and often searching in the darkness, flailing blindly.