Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Dans Ma Peau



aka In My Skin : France 2002 : Marina DE VAN : 93 mins

Esther (de Van) is a successful if overworked businesswoman. One night, she accidentally suffers a deep cut to her leg. Initially, she doesn’t notice scarcely plausible, given the severity of the wound. Finally she does notice – and notices that being cut is, for her, a source of pleasure. This triggers a slow slide into dementia, while her nice-guy boyfriend (Laurent Lucas) looks on in bewilderment.

Writer-director-star de Van, an on-off collaborator with Francois Ozon, has a distinctly vampiric look: with her pale skin and sharp teeth, she’s a chic nosferatu, ideal casting as Dracula’s bride. The surrealists would have worshipped her. And shed have joined in: close-up after lengthy close-up makes it clear that, as the saying goes, if she was chocolate she’d eat herself. Which Esther, indeed, proceeds to do – albeit only carefully-selected morsels of flesh. Admirers of The Fall may recall ‘The Man Whose Head Expanded’ whose protagonist “practised ‘cut-up technique’, literally, on himself.”

These scenes will be too much for some: at last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, despite stern warnings that This film contains images and explores themes that some viewers may find disturbing, there was a steady stream of walkouts as soon as said images and themes started to unfold. But despite several grisly moments, Dans ma peau never actually delivers anything truly grotesque. de Van always seems about to show us something unspeakably awful, which adds an electric edge to the quietest scene.

Viewers expecting conventional narrative closure, however, will be disappointed: the climax ventures into performance-art territory as de Van retreats behind split-screen and a rotating camera. culminating in a deliberately baffling final shot which seems to capture Esther in a moment of what? Transcendent personal apocalypse? Belated coming-to-her-senses? Only de Van may know for sure. But there’s no shortage of stuff to (ahem) chew on, however, in this most graceful and poised of skin-flicks if nothing else, the remarkable scene in which Esther slowly threatens various parts of her body with a knife makes Dans ma peau the first stalk-and-slash film ever made in which victim and assailant are the same person.

rewrite 2nd September, 2004
(seen 15th August 2003 : Filmhouse, Edinburgh : public show : Edinburgh Film Festival)
based on original review, from coverage of 2003 Edinburgh Film Festival

by Neil Young