The French have a habit of stretching cinematic boundaries to breaking point and beyond. Gaspar Noe has thrown his tuppence into the equation over the last few years with screechers such as Seul Contre Tous and Irreversible. Marina de Van continues along this morose but fascinating trajectory, in her latest opus Dans Ma Peau, which she both stars in and directs.

Esther (Marina de Van) is a smart, weirdly attractive, professional woman on the way up. She grafts extra hours at work and soon achieves promotion. She has a supportive boyfriend and what most normal people would call a fairly successful living. But she has another agenda.

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Cutting herself one night at a party, Esther begins her journey of painful/ pleasurable self-discovery. A journey, most would describe as self-destructive, disgusting, obscene and sick. Not Esther though. Like an alcoholic or junkie needing a fix, she slips out of business lunches into the cellar, groping around for the nearest sharp implement to plunge, scrape and tear at her epidermis. To her, this becomes an essential prerequisite, like food, drink and sex. It fills a spiritual void, and becomes part of a normal day's work in the office.

Naturally, her boyfriend begs to differ and when she fakes a car crash to conceal her knife to flesh activities, things take a long trip on a downward spiral.

This is tough going at all times. Some of the most graphic scenes of self-mutilation bordering on cannibalism are virtually unwatchable. There's hardly a moment where your face will not be squirming, stomach queasy and lungs gasping for more air.

It would be easy to label this with the unimaginative bog standard film censor adjective: gratuitous. But this is a serious piece of work that challenges and explores rather than shocks for shock's sake. Worryingly realistic, it makes a Mike Leigh or a Ken Loach film look contrived and staged - and that's saying something.

Marina De Van takes realism to new levels. Why she has chosen to explore such a morbid subject is anyone's guess. She provides no definitive insight into why Esther does what she does, but with the sheer authenticity and empathy inherent in her portrayal, there is a suggestion of strong personal connections with the subject.

This will cause a rumble in theatres all over. If you're wearing a tie, wear it loose. It would also be advisable to keep all clothing loose and top buttons undone.

Reviewed on: 11 Aug 2003
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The odyssey of a young woman who becomes addicted to self-mutilation.
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Keith Hennessey Brown ***1/2

Director: Marina de Vin

Writer: Marina de Vin

Starring: Marina de Vin, Laurent Lucas, Lea Drucker, Thibault de Montalembert, Dominque Reymond, Bernard Alane

Year: 2002

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France


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