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Marina De Van has swiftly garnered a reputation as one of the most daring directors that her native country of France has to offer. A frequent collaborator with Francois Ozon on films such as 8 Women and Sitcom, her first full-length feature was 2002's Dans Ma Peau, in which she also starred and wrote the screenplay. Tartan Video has released the subtitled DVD edition for the UK...

Dans Ma Peau
Before you reach for the French phrasebooks, let me translate Dans Ma Peau into 'In My Skin'; a title that becomes all the more relevant as the film progresses. It tells the story of businesswoman Esther (De Van) who injures her leg as she traverses a building site. Following the accident, Esther develops a morbid obsession with her skin leading to self-mutilation and eventual mild-cannibalism. Soon she is an isolated shadow of her former self; alienated from her old friends and colleagues.  

It's fair to say that Dans Ma Peau is not a barrel of laughs. It tackles a severe condition in an unforgiving manner, so be prepared for some harrowing scenes and uncomfortable viewing. Although specifically a drama, De Van relishes the opportunity to stray into the horror genre by turning Esther into both the victim and the 'bogeyman'. It's a gimmick that works extremely well; whereas we usually want our scary movie protagonists to lock themselves away where they can come to no harm, it is in these circumstances that Esther poses the most severe threat to herself. As her own worst enemy, the solo scenes with Esther are the sequences in which the tension becomes almost unbearable.

To its credit, this is not a film that relies on heavy gore; instead the tone is set by good acting and downbeat direction. Shots of the, occasionally lack lustre, make-up are kept to a minimum and we instead focus on the reactions of the characters to illustrate the horror of the injuries. What is implied is never pretty, making this a squirm-inducing ride to the finale.

Dans Ma Peau
Although foreign language, Dans Ma Peau loses little in translation, conveying the increasing isolation of its central character extremely well. However, it is not without its faults. As the inciting incident of the film, the building site accident occurs far too early in the film's runtime, denying us the opportunity to see Esther as a 'normal woman'. The changes in her personality are therefore never truly gauged and it's difficult to hope that this character will return to 'normality' if we have never witnessed her in this condition. Empathy with the protagonist is always essential in this type of film, but it's hard to care about De Van's Esther.

In addition to this, many viewers have levelled criticism towards the open-ended conclusion. Indeed, the end credits arrive at a surprising moment which refuses to give the audience a proper resolution to the protagonist's inner-conflict. It may be admirable that Marina De Van does not want to offer a 'quick fix' ending, but it still leaves perhaps too many questions unanswered.

In a world of forgettable movies, Dans Ma Peau is something very different. It's a noble attempt to make something shocking that isn't technically 'horror', and it succeeds in this respect. You'll remember this film after a sole viewing far more than, say, Garfield. Thing is, if you were forced into a repeat viewing of one of these movies, you'd probably choose the below-par family movie over the self-mutilation flick any day. It's not that Dans Ma Peau isn't worthy and well made; it's just that it's not a particularly enjoyable slice of culture. You could blame it on the subject matter but Steven Shainberg managed to cover similar ground in Secretary and make the audience feel more than just revulsion at the self-harm scenes. In contrast, the tone of Dans Ma Peau is far too dark to win over many viewers.

Dans Ma Peau
Dans Ma Peau is directed in a style which denotes realism and implies that the events onscreen could commonly be found in real life. The groundings of the Art House genre mean that the picture is more akin to a television drama than a bright, colourful Hollywood feature. While this is generally effective, the picture quality suffers from pixilation anytime a scene shot under bright light appears. A lack of contrast in extremely dark scenes is also a slight worry.

As audio tracks go, Dans Ma Peau is not particularly ambitious with numerous scenes of near-silence. These are handled with a minimum of hiss on each of the three tracks; Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1. The fact that the feature is subtitled means that the dialogue is less important but, for those fluent in 'Paris talk', it's good to hear that speech is concise and clear. The party scenes at the beginning of the film give a rare opportunity for the audio to allow directional effects with music pumped pleasingly through the rear-speakers. This is a solid, if unexciting, mix.

Marina De Van offers her thoughts on the making- and meaning- of the film in a Director's Commentary. As with the main feature, this is subtitled as De Van speaks, barely pausing for breath, in her native language. For those scratching their heads over certain aspects of the movie, this is an essential extra.

Unfortunately this is about an interesting as the extras on the disc get with trailers, including one for the feature itself, failing to generate much excitement. Elsewhere in the package is a 4-page booklet with film notes by Tony McKibben.

Dans Ma Peau
The transfer is solid, if unremarkable, but this isn't a film that holds up to repeat viewings. Not because of the quality of the film-making; more so the one-note tone that becomes too depressing too bear. Unlike many movies, Dans Ma Peau, will get under your skin and leave you affected. If you like to 'experience' films then you might want to give this one a whirl, otherwise steer well clear.