Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Filming herself with the same kind of intense scrutiny and obsessive detailing as Maya Deren did decades ago, director and actress Marina de Van is a name that isn't mentioned nearly enough.
Born in 1971 in France and a student of philosophy as well as cinema, de Van is probably best known for her work with Francois Ozon. Her name is on many of his best films as a co-writer, actress and even crew member. Her work on the scripts for UNDER THE SAND and 8 WOMEN are particularly noteworthy while her performances in SITCOM and SEE THE SEA are among the finest in Ozon's canon.
Her most intriguing and valuable work so far though has been her one feature film as writer, director and star. 2002's DANS MA PEAU (IN MY SKIN) is among the most overlooked films of the decade. A strange and at times deeply disturbing work that recalls the body horror of early David Cronenberg as well as some of the seventies most extreme works in the exploitation and art house genres.
Just 30 years old when she made this extremely effective low budget film, Marina stars as Esther and her camera rarely leaves her own striking face and body. Esther is a a young business women, seemingly normal and in a relationship. One night at a party she slips through some glass and badly cuts her leg. The deep gash, and particularly the idea that her flesh and what is underneath is all that is truly her own, began to obsess her.
IN MY SKIN could have been a simple and sick exploitation film but de Van's thoughtful and beautifully composed direction, moving script and astonishing performance turn this into one of the most genuine art films of the decade. Marina de Van obviously has a lot to say in this film, about women in the work place and about the twisted body obsession that the media is always throwing onto young women. But more than that I think IN MY SKIN is suggesting just how isolated we can become, in this increasingly mechanical and cold modern world, from ourselves and our bodies.
IN MY SKIN is a difficult film to watch and it is not for everyone. Beware of critics who attempt to psychologically dissect the film too much. One of the things that makes it great is that it is a particularly internal horror film. Just as Esther discovers something underneath her skin that is hers alone, I think the only true and accurate reading of IN MY SKIN could be given by Marina de Van herself. It is a film that alienated a lot of people and has, in my view, been unjustly pushed away. I think it is one of the best films of the decade and one of the most thoughtful and fully realized works by a female writer and director in 20 years.
The fine dvd of IN MY SKIN is still in print and features some short films that de Van made as well as a engrossing commentary track by her.