In My Skin (May 16/04)
Somewhere around the midway point of In My Skin - probably during the sequence that finds the central character chewing on her arm as though it were a cob of corn - even the most open-minded viewer will be forced to ask themselves just what on earth they're looking at. Writer/director/star Marina de Van seems to have no other goal than to shock her audience, and if that was indeed the case, she's certainly succeeded. But in terms of providing a reasonable explanation for why her protagonist behaves the way she does, de Van refuses to allow us inside this character's admittedly bizarre head.
The thin storyline involves Esther (de Van), a socially awkward woman who doesn't seem entirely comfortable either in work situations or more casual gatherings in her free time. At one such event, while strolling through an impossibly dangerous backyard, Esther trips and rips open her leg (but somehow manages to not notice right away). Though she gets it bandaged, she can't resist picking at the wound - an activity that soon escalates to cutting herself on purpose and keeping pieces of her own flesh in her purse (for a midday snack, I suppose).
It's not necessarily a bad premise for a movie - there are, presumably, some folks that are actually afflicted with such a disorder - but de Van's pretentiousness prevents the film from ever becoming even remotely interesting. Clearly influenced by filmmakers like David Cronenberg and David Lynch, de Van imbues In My Skin with a distinct sense of style but fails to include anything of substance for the viewer to latch onto. As a result, the movie is about as entertaining as the plot description makes it sound; without a single glimpse into what makes Esther tick, it's impossible to feel a single thing towards her except apathy.
Which is a shame, since it's fairly obvious that de Van has some talent. The spare and austere tone she employs as a director is reminiscent of Kubrick, right down to the occasional SteadiCam tracking shot. The comparisons end there, though, as de Van doesn't come close to Kubrick's ability in marrying intriguing images with characters and a storyline worth following. As an actress, de Van uses her odd appearance to her benefit; it's not at all difficult to believe Esther's transformation from office weirdo to self-mutilating weirdo.
In My Skin's overly ambigious conclusion cements its status as an obtuse piece of work, and it's hard to imagine just who the film is meant to appeal to. While there's no denying that the film is utterly unique, an innovative storyline simply isn't enough to keep us engaged - there has to be more.