RJ Bayley Reviews: Dans Ma Peau (In My Skin)

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From the range of films in the New French Extremity, this is one that stands out as truly stomach churning. Written, directed by and starring Marina de Van, Dans Ma Peau tells the very disturbing story of Esther (de Van), a PR woman who, following the accidental laceration of her leg and feeling of disembodiment from it, begins to self-mutilate in increasingly extreme ways while trying to hide it from those around her.

It might seem callous to call Dans Ma Peau a posh gore movie, but the film is pornographically focused on Esther’s mutilations. To be precise, it’s a hard-core yet soft-focus pornography masquerading as artful erotica. Nonetheless it’s clear that beneath this veneer it is designed to stir the most primal senses. And stir them it does; the special effects are very well done, restrained yet unpleasant enough to make the skin crawl.

What makes the mutilation sequences work is the calmly intimate camerawork. There is something bizarrely sensual to these sequences of bodily destruction, most notably when Esther first mutilates her arm proper, which is intriguingly caring and cathartic. It does work beautifully and gives a haunting impression that there is some romance and even tenderness in the way she is exploring her body in a very unique, twisted way.

The story around this does, for the most part, work. Esther’s life is so mundane that her self-mutilations feel incredibly real. The story can however sag and at points its determined commitment to creating a very real world means that the audience can also feel that mundanity. It also falls foul of the same problem many films committed to realism can, in having the story only realistically being capable of falling into repetition.

★★★

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