Auto-cannibalism: “In My Skin” (de Van, 2002)

First off, if you don’t like gore (hey, it’s a blog about cannibal films, not necessarily slashers), then you may want to avoid this little French number. If graphic scenes don’t bother you (or if you like them) then this one is quite intriguing and very well made. But –– you’ve been warned.vlcsnap-2019-02-16-15h47m58s843.png

Marina de Van both directed and starred in this film, one in a genre of French movies which became known as New French Extremity films. There’s not a great deal of plot, but there’s a lot to the film in terms of the concepts and questions it raises. The film starts with a series of scenes: traffic, buildings, doors, etc, split screen into the image on one side, and a negative version on the other. So we’re already exploring dualism. The lead character, Esther (played by the director, Marina de Van), is a picture of privilege: she is white, well paid, well off, has a loving boyfriend – she’s on top of her world. Then she has a fall. A real fall, onto some rubbish, and actually injures her leg. But it doesn’t hurt. She doesn’t even notice the abrasions for some time.

Her doctor (played by her real-life brother, Adrian de Van) and her boyfriend (Laurent Lucas) are both concerned about her feeling no pain, but she brushes them off. Then she starts poking her wound, then the cutting starts, then the stabbing, then later the chewing (which qualifies it for my cannibal blog). That’s all I’m saying – no spoilers.

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In the director’s words, the movie asks “does this body really belong to me?” In an interview, she revealed that the story is based on an childhood accident, when she was hit by a car and had her leg broken, and she saw her leg not as part of her, but as a “fascinating, deformed object.”

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Here’s the point: we look at each other with love or lust or hatred or fear, but it’s always only skin deep. What is beneath that surface? Derrida tells us that the binary opposition of inside to outside is the “matrix” of all oppositions. We consume the insides (muscle, fat, blood) of other animals but are horrified at our own internals – think of the warning given on the news when showing an accident or terrorist event, often quickly followed by an advert or a kitchen show involving bits of a dead lamb.

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Why are we so repelled by what’s under our skin? Judith Halberstam tells us that skin is a “metonym for the human”, and any breach of it reveals a “semiotic of monstrosity” – the uncanniness within the body. Or as Angela Carter put it, “if flesh plus skin equals sensuality, then flesh minus skin equals meat”.

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This film, and cannibal films generally, remind us that we are not gods or angelic beings – we are animals, and are made of meat, just like the animals we torment and slaughter. When Esther looks into her own being, she feels the same appetite others feel when walking past a roast.

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In My Skin received 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, with one reviewer saying “A spellbinding, forceful film that refuses to be ignored” and another slamming it as “a bloody mess, in more ways than one.” The film received the Best International Film award at the Fantasia Film Festival in 2003. Make up your own mind.

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