In this world, you've got to have balls to make it and that goes double for us ladies. When I first heard of an edgy little flick called IN MY SKIN, I thought it sounded chalk full of balls. When I discovered that this film was written by, directed by, and starring a woman named Marina de Van, a film so disturbing many claim they can't even sit through it, I was enthralled. When I discovered that this film was her debut feature, I was floored.
The film itself may be difficult to watch for some. If you're reading this and thinking, "gosh, I wonder if it's too harsh for me" it probably is. Please don't come telling me it gave you nightmares or turned your stomach. My only response would be, as always, "you're welcome".
The following description does involve a few spoilers, so be forewarned.
IN MY SKIN, "Dans Ma Peau" follows the lovely, self-conscious young woman, Esther, superbly portrayed by the mesmerizing Marina herself, who works for a public relations firm. Her life appears to be on the up and up. Her boyfriend wants to live with her, she's in line for a promotion, things appear to be going well for her. One night at a party, Esther wanders into the backyard and stumbles, scratching her leg on a piece of scrap metal. She goes back to the party, and later realizes that her injury is much more severe than she had initially thought. There's a deep, ugly gouge all the way up her shin from which she bleeds profusely. Reasonably, she goes to a doctor, who patches her up and tells her she might need a skin graft. But Esther becomes obsessed with the wound. She won't let it heal. She finds herself sneaking away during work to cut herself. As her leg becomes an ugly scarred mass, she begins to notice a problem with her arm. And I'll stop there as I can imagine you can see where this is heading.
It is a beautiful piece. What starts as morbid curiosity soon devolves into obsessional mutilation. The film focuses on self-mutilation in a very sickening way. This is a compulsion that can't be controlled. The psychosis is very real and upsetting, but in a strange way beautiful, like a masochistic voyage of self discovery. She truly feels through these mutilations and to have such a strong and defined vision for her debut film is exceptional.
And where did this fascination come from for Marina? Like the best of art, it came from what she knows and her own experiences. When she was 8 years old, a car struck her and broke her leg.
"I didn't faint and I didn't really feel pain. Instead, I saw my leg as if it wasn't part of my body, as if it was an object. For me, then, it was a fascinating deformed object."
When her mother showed her X-rays of her leg, she pointed out that part of the bone was missing and had been thrown away after an operation.
"That really intensified my feeling of estrangement from my leg. It wasn't mine but I was obsessed with looking at it.I think we can all relate to feeling at one time or another, trapped in our own bodies. Feeling alienated from them even. A broken limb, for instance. It is so brave of Marina to tackle a subject so common, but is such a relenting manner, completely unconcerned with the fact that it puts some people quite off. Any subject matter that speaks directly to her is fair game. She is not a woman to shy away from anything. And the reason she decided to play Esther in the film?
As I grew up, I began to think that in our society we are utterly alienated from our bodies. Think of the work we do in offices - it's as though our bodies could have their own lives and we wouldn't necessarily know about it. There is a split, and sometimes our bodies are utterly absent from us.
I became more and more struck by this during my early adulthood, how alienated we are from our bodies. I was also struck by how little it takes for our bodies, or parts of our bodies, to suddenly become alien objects, but ones which fascinate us. All you have to do is see your leg at an unusual, unfeasible angle, for example, for it to become a strange spectacle that's like looking at an object that in some ways has nothing to do with you. Of course, in another way it does have something to do with you and you know it does."
"Because the film is about my obsession with my body. I had a great desire to explore it by putting it on film."Here is the trailer. If you're someone who can handle it, you should definitely seek out the film. I highly recommend it.
Little is known of her personal life. Though she is so open and honest on camera, with her words, and with her work, she prefers to keep her personal life exactly that. Personal. She was born in 1971 and studied Philosophy at Sorbonne University before enrolling at the prestigious film school FEMIS. It was here that she met Francois Ozon, a filmmaker she would find herself collaborating with again and again. They co-wrote 8 WOMEN and UNDER THE SAND together. Marina de Van has a brother, Adrian Van, which is a very good actor. He also plays in sitcom and made a brief appearance in IN MY SKIN. Her father is a musicologist. She studied at the Lycée Henri IV and at the Sorbonne University where she earned a degree in philosophy.
Marina's fascination with identity and feeling disassociated with ones own self are the themes of her second feature, DON'T LOOK BACK, with screened out of competition at Cannes and starred the enchanting and bold Monica Bellucci. Though it didn't receive the same praise as her first film, it is an intriguing look into one's own self and one's own identity. It is beautifully and bravely directed and, like all her work, provocative.
There is a phrase that I've heard tossed around. I've even seen it tagged up on buildings in my home haunt of Vancouver. Fear is ruining your life. And it's true. Fear holds you back, fear makes you give up, fear can keep you from even trying in this life. Marina is a striking example of how to live one's life and create one's art without fear. Be true to yourself and your work will reflect that honesty.
I look very forward to Marina's next piece and highly encourage you to be fearless and check out IN MY SKIN.