Cutters Anonymous

Mayhaps I have mentioned my complicated relationship with French horror films?  No?  Okay, I’ll do it now.  (Yes, I realize I actually talk about this all the time.)  Over the past few years, I’ve had to reevaluate it.  It seems that High Tension (while suffering from bullshit leaps in logic) might have more subtext than I gave it credit for.  And Them, well, it’s better than I thought (on a second viewing), and then there this whole school of New French Extremism.

New French Extremism is a term coined by Artforum critc James Quandt for this branch of filmmaking that’s been taking shape in France for the past few years.  Its films include those such as Inside (2007), Frontier(s) (2007), Martyrs (2008), Them (2006), High Tension (2003) and today’s feature In My Skin (2002)–and a bunch of others.  Google that shit, yo.  Films labeled with this moniker tend to be extremely (hey, that’s the name of this school!) transgressive.  Quandt described it as “a cinema suddenly determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement.”

The films I have seen over the course of the last ten years, which is most of these, are growing into a minor obsession for me.  I think very highly of (most of) the filmmakers working in this area.  When I first saw Inside, I was pretty sure my brain broke, and I would never recover.  The film is (undoubtedly) the next level in horror filmmaking, and I wholeheartedly believe that these films can (and hopefully will) change the trajectory of current horror cinema away from remakes into films with actual substance and subtext.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about In My Skin

Esther’s life is headed in the right direction.  She’s becoming upwardly mobile at work.  She has a boyfriend who loves her and wants to commit.  And she has a best friend who’s extremely supportive.  But when she falls at a party and cuts her leg (rather badly), she descends into a grotesque investigation of what lies beneath her very skin.

There’s your synopsis, if you must have one, but I have to be clear and say that such a description, while entirely accurate, does not seem to capture even one moment of the film.  What you expect from that description is hardly what you’ll get when you watch it.  The trailer posted below has the same fault.  It presents you with a film you won’t see.  What you will see is shocking and subtle and very, very unsettling.

I’m finding it difficult to talk about this film.  It has its flaws (one being what I think is a misrepresentation of this particular pathology), but those flaws seem trivial in comparison with the way the film makes you feel.  How is that? you’ll ask.  It makes you feel dirty, sexual, transgressive, and self-abusive–if only for the few moments of your life the film consumes.  I use the word consumes intentionally.  For me, walking away from my DVD player after I’d removed the disc, this was my primary feeling.  I felt as if the film had consumed me, and I needed to find a way to regain my self after the viewing.

Esther’s descent into madness is far more quiet than you might think.  When you read that this is a part of the New French Extremism and you read what its content is, you’ll no doubt be expecting frequent scenes of graphic self-injurious violence.  And when you finish watching the film, you’ll likely feel that’s what you’ve seen, but it isn’t what the film actually contains.  The scenes in which Esther peels away layers of her skin are the most engaging part of the film, and as a viewer you get caught up in the romanticism she has for these acts.  Marina de Van (director, writer, and star) keeps the shots of Esther’s self-injury extremely tight, and the camera moves in such a way that you feel visually pulled into each scene.  But the film is actually more filled with the moments in-between and leading up to these acts.

The film, like the best (and my favorite) French films, doesn’t answer as many questions as it asks, and much like its NFE couterparts, it seems the film is more about the feeling of the viewing than the points it could make.  Whatever happens to be wrong with Esther is secondary to the eroticism with which Marina de Van imbues each cutting scene.  It’s an interesting choice, and I think, ultimately, the right one.  The film surely takes you on a journey; you feel as if you have lost your way along with Esther, but you, fortunately, get to end that journey–unlike Esther.

Gosh, what I have written up to this point is really vague and effusive.  Hmm.  I’m not sure I’m capable of remedying that.  I’ll need to see the thing ten more times to really put my finger on the pulse of it.  It’s a tough one to watch and an even tougher one to nutshell.  Why does Esther fall into this pattern of self-abuse?  What is she seeking underneath her skin?  Why does she engage in acts of self-cannibalism?  Why does she seek to preserve the flesh she’s removed from her body?  None of these are questions I can easily answer.  I have theories, of course, but I think your experience of viwing the film would be destroyed by my sharing them.  So I’ll just say, “Go rent this movie.  Then tell me what you think.”

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~ by acaseofyou12581 on June 6, 2010.

2 Responses to “Cutters Anonymous”

  1. Have you read Ambrosial Flesh?

  2. Nope. Is it a similar plot? This movie was really good, but I think it rewards repeat viewing. I need to see it again.

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