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In My skin

     Dans Ma Peau/In My Skin is a slasher film for arthouse intellectuals, theorists of "the body," and swimming-against-the-stream feminists. It's a kind of on-film performance piece, written and directed by, and also starring, France's Marina De Van, who has acted for the popular filmmaker, Francois Ozon (Sitcom, See the Sea), and co-written two of his features (Under the Sand, Eight Women).

     In My Skin tells the freaky, also undeniably absorbing tale, of Esther (De Van), a thirtyish Parisian research analyst, who, one strange evening, enters a masochistic netherworld when she trips outside a party, badly bloodying her leg. Rather than wipe up or get medical attention, Esther lowers her pant leg, allowing her wounds to fester. She goes home, examines them, becomes absorbed with the hurt, fascinated with the topography of bruises, scabs, and red drips.

     Finally, a doctor bandages her injury. In revolt, Esther goes feverishly after the bandage with scissors, so she can liberate her naked, maimed flesh. Grown antsy at her staid office, she races to a subterranean hideout where she can razor more of her body. Back at her computer, she resumes work, but with a stealthy, smutty smile.

     As Esther becomes more possessed, private and public space inevitably interact. She attends a formal business lunch, and while her straight-laced colleagues drone on about the beautiful city of Lisbon, Esther hacks at her arm beneath the table. She's so transfixed that she can't really hide what's happening from those intimate with her: her horrified girfriend and office mate, Sandrine (Lea Drucker), and her confused and threatened boyfriend, Vincent (Laurent Lucas).

     Why do you do it? Vincent demands. "I don't know," Esther honestly answers. In her haze, she's like Catherine Deneuve's schizoid, murderous protagonist of the Roman Polanski 1965 classic, Repulsion.

     De Van the screenwriter/director offers no facile psychological explanation for Esther's pathological behavior, nor does she sanctimoniously condemn it. Interviewed, De Van admitted an autobiographical connection with the character she so intensely plays: a traumatic childhood car accident left her with a deformed leg. "It reinforced my feeling of strangeness," she explained. "During my entire adolescence my body both interested and intrigued me." In contrast, Esther, the workaholic, has cut herself off from her body, until that fateful, bizarre, epiphanic night.

     De Van: "...(T)he body is, in effect, a bit absent from our culture. It is a calculated abstract idea, but it is lived relatively little... Self-mutilation is a very elementary and strong way to reconnect with the present, the moment, and with sensation. A re-appropriation of the body comes with pain."

     Interestingly, Esther never touches her breasts or genitalia when she's slicing away, never mutilating them, never even masturbating, no matter how blatantly sexual her charge when she's violating her flesh. In My Skin is a potent text for those debating what does, or does not, constitute "pornography." There's a long, juicy section in which Esther's face goes down on her bleeding arm, and she licks it and sucks on it as if she's mouthing a ripe, wet vagina. But it's not a vagina, it's an arm. Does that therefore disqualify as porno?

     Those who have argued that horror-movie bloodsucking is displaced oral sex will adore In My Skin, especially since De Van, with her dark, shaped eyebrows and pronounced teeth, looks so prototypically vampiric. Dracula's daughter!.

(Boston Phoenix – December 2003)

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