Dans Ma Peau (In My Skin), directed by Marina de Van, seemed to be up my alley. Everything I have read about the film got me in the mood for a creepy and unrelenting shocker, heavy on the bloody metaphor. To be sure, this was the case, somewhat, but my ultimate reaction to Dans Ma Peau was more boredom than horror.
Perhaps I am jaded? Too many zombie films; too much retched cinematic excess. Or maybe this film was just trying to hard, or not enough. Alas, as of this moment, fresh from viewing the pretentious, bloody and ultimately empty film, I am not sure it matters. Something is missing here.
The tale itself is relatively simple: A young career girl, played by the director herself, stumbles in a dark backyard while attending a party and cuts herself on a piece of metal. Only later does she notice the giant gash in her leg. She apparently felt no pain. At this point, very early on, de Van is asking us to suspend disbelief. Not something the viewer should much trouble with, considering other directors ask us to swallow stories about Alien invasions, flying superheroes and men coming back to life after being nailed to a wooden cross. After a visit to a discourteous doctor (the film does a poor job of crushing the belief that all of Paris is irretrievably rude,) de Van's character, Esther gets herself a promotion and moves in with her boyfriend-a nice guy who can't understand why she failed to feel any pain during the accident. Her tests her by touching her sexually and asking if she feels anything. Her answer, of course, is no.
As her career and her life progresses she becomes obsessed with not only the gash in her leg but in making it worse. She cuts herself; she removes the bandages and exposes the nasty wound. She makes it larger. She plays with it and with every sharp metal object in sight. It gets bad. During a luncheon with clients she cannot stop herself from slicing up her arm and then, in private, feasting on the blood and skin. She caresses knives as if they were lovers and mutilates herself in a truly orgiastic manner complete with blood, peeled skin and shock trying very hard to be erotic. By the film's end she is walking scar tissue.
It appears as though there is a point but I fear I have missed it. Either that or the obvious analysis is the right one, that the whole movie is a metaphor for the pain and suffering we inflict on ourselves as we aspire to join and thrive in the modern world. The foods we eat, the toxins we willingly put into our bodies, the bad relationships we endure, the lies we accept as truth--all these things are nothing more than figurative knives destroying us. And we swallow them like they were pure and holy ambrosia. If this is indeed the point of the film then I must say it is rather a simple one. The concept could have been handled better and more interestingly than it is. How absurd that a film centering on self-mutilation could at times be so tiresome. Don't get me wrong, there are moments in the movie that are quite intense. Genuine tension is created-- in the luncheon scene especially-- and often we are wondering how far Esther will push her obsession and when it will all fall in on her, imploding everything she is (seemingly) working toward. But how hard is it to achieve this? And: is there anything behind it or is it tension for tension's sake?
Ultimately I feel the film had the right idea and delivered it in a less than realized manner that resembles the worst second year film student tripe. Simplistic as it is gory, the movie falls flat on its own concept and becomes ridiculous without the smarts to elevate it beyond sensationalism. Remember the name Marina de Vans as I do not doubt we'll see better things from her someday, but certainly not just yet.