Marina de Van’s outstanding debut film In My Skin/Dans Ma Peau is sometimes contextualised as part of the New French Extremism movement of the early 2000s. De Van certainly isn’t afraid of being a provocateur and here mixes her courageous impulses with a distinctive vision of searing intelligence, insight and compassion. It’s potent in its mixture of the visceral with the cerebral. Its influence can be seen in Julia Ducournau’s excellent Raw, but it is yet to attain the status it and it’s creator deserve.
De Van’s formal precision and richness of psychology are best exemplified in the scene where, Esther, in a restaurant with business clients, imagines her arm being disattached from her body and can’t help but poke at it with her cutlery. De Van utilises frequent and sustained close-ups in this sequence. We alternate between the faces of Esther and the others, her bloodied arm, and shots of food being cut on plates. The intimacy of the framing creates an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.The banal, bourgeois chatter surrounding Esther also cleverly hints at what may be an element of her dissatisfaction and expertly, viscerally puts the audience in her shoes. While Esther’s compulsion could be seen as a metaphor for any addiction, de Van never gives in to easy answers. While this scene subtly suggests what may be a source of Esther’s alienation, it is only one of many ideas explored in this rich, complex portrait. With similar richness, de Van is also unafraid to mesh contrasting tones. The above scene is tragic, horrifying and darkly satirical all at once.
De Van’s position as auteur is further evidenced in the fact that not only did she write and direct the film, but she is also its lead actor, where she similarly excels. She also has the courage to push the film into a potentially self-reflexive reading on film-making towards the close, with Esther becoming driven to take pictures of her mutilated body as part of her ritual of self-harm. Perhaps Esther’s compulsion to consume herself is similar to the compulsion of an artist in making-art. Whatever the case, de Van’s art richly deserves to be wider known and appreciated.