IN MY SKIN
(Dans Ma Peau)
In My Skin is a startling film about pathology and obsession. Comparisons were made between In My Skin and the work of David Cronenberg. In My Skin evokes the same fetishistic sense of regarding the body as an alien object that Cronenberg does. One thinks of Cronenbergs The Fly (1986) with its protagonist fascinatingly watching the process of his body turning into an insectoid lifeform, and especially Crash (1996) with its fetishistic fascination with forms of bodily mutilation, namely auto accidents. Staying in Canada, one might make even further comparison between In My Skin and Lynne Stopkewichs Kissed (1996), which similarly was a woman-directed film wherein Molly Parker develops an unhealthy sexual obsession (with corpses) and becomes embroiled in her fetish to the abandonment of standard relationships.
The film is shot and lit in cool, neutral tones, the sort of tones that a sleek upmarket furniture commercial might come in. Amid these muted banalities come Marina de Vans increasing obsessions with self-mutilation. There is the remarkable scene that takes place in a fashionable restaurant where Marina de Vans co-workers go on about different PR practices in Japan, while de Van sits unnoticed having a mini-crisis she has to first stop her left hand from playing in her food, it then becomes detached from her wrist and she sits there silently panicking before managing to screw it back on, and then sits pricking and twisting her skin with a fork, as the banal conversation continue on around her all the while. It is a scene that is in every way as remarkable as the one with the chicken coming to life at the dinnertable in Eraserhead (1977). The bizarreness continues to build in subsequent scenes with Marina de Van in a hotel room, cutting and mutilating her skin with a knife and then eating it, before lying back, raising her leg and letting blood from the wound flow down into her mouth; and the unnerving scene towards the end where she starts twisting a knife into her eye.
Films with sexually obsessive subject matter like this also invoke a relationship between the actor/actress and the director who uses them as their text the work of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, even Russ Meyer, offers good examples. The relationship is frequently akin to a dominant and a submissive, the actress like a submissive that the director is unleashing their urges and fantasies on. Here Marina de Van is the director, writer and lead actress all in one and In My Skin presents the unique image of the director using her own body as the films text. It makes In My Skin seem less a filmic exploration of obsession than it does a piece of solo performance art.
You also have to admire the amazing degree of control that Marina de Van exerts over what it is that she refuses to allow us to see of her own obsession. You could make even further comparisons, in quite different ways to the aforementioned, between In My Skin and Roman Polanskis Repulsion (1965). In both films we are shown a woman who descends into mentally unbalanced behaviour and obsession, yet where any handholds or easy clues as to the reason why are withheld from the audience. This is what makes In My Skin so effectively unnerving Marina de Vans insistence that we merely observe the behaviour her character displays, but never become party to it internally. Quite why de Van is so driven to mutilate herself is something de Van the writer never gives us. There are certainly no clues to be found in de Vans regal and aristocratically aloof features she rarely even smiles. Indeed, the final image of the film with she in black, lying on the bed in the hotel room, bloodied and bruised and looking at the camera as it pulls back from her, is she, both as director and actress, defying us to make any sense or pass judgment on her. The nearest we get to an explanation is one of contrasts. As director, Marina de Van spends much time on the detail of her characters life the plans to move in with her boyfriend, her job and promotion that the effect is clearly one of observing the disparity between a placid, banal and ordered surface and something twisted and obsessive beneath.
Marina de Van has directed three other films subsequently, all genre films, with the psychological horror film Dont Look Back (2009), the dark fairytale Hop-o-My-Thumb (2010) and Dark Touch (2013) about a young girl with psychic powers.
(Winner for Best Actress (Marina de Van) at this sites Best of 2002 Awards).