01 JUN 2021, 18h30 | AUDITÓRIO ILÍDIO PINHO
Dans ma peau
by Marina de Van
France, 2002, 86'
Dans Ma Peau and the Horror of the Body
Shir Ariya, screenwriter
Marina de Van’s psychological horror Dans Ma Peau (in English: In My Skin) follows Esther, a marketing consultant who injures her leg at a party and later develops an increasing obsession with acts of self-mutilation and self-cannibalism. The story primarily explores Esther’s alienation from her own body and the idea that what is inherently deemed ours may function entirely on its own. In this way, de Van flirts with genre conventions as she continuously positions the site of the body as the place of the unknown, bringing to light the horror that emerges from within.
At the start of the film, Esther cuts her leg on a piece of metal—an accident which awakens a perverse curiosity in her as she experiences an overwhelming sense of estrangement from her own body parts. The wounded leg tears Esther’s attention away from her picture-perfect life of a loving relationship, apartment-hunting and promotions at work, instead drawing her into a sensual realm of narcissistic self-mutilation. Her act of complete dissociation from her own leg portrays a foreign entity within our own physical form, separating the mind and the body—two spheres which are often considered to be anatomically bounded up together. Through the film’s motif of human and animal meat, we are continuously placed within Esther’s own subjectivity, encouraged to view her skin as merely meat; an organ devoid of all humanity. This relates to de Van’s personal sensibility as she observes, ‘in our society, we are utterly alienated from our bodies’. In light of Esther’s monotonous market research job and her stagnant life filled with small talk and parties, the film draws attention to how the body often dislocates from the mind, becoming a slab of skin and bones which are forced to lift and bend, performing the endless grind of daily human routines.
In addition to exploring unconventional psychoanalytical themes, the film provides an original take on the gory slasher genre. De Van carves out a world where the victim and the perpetrator are one, engulfing her protagonist in an endless cycle of violence and revealing the sense of threat that may emerge from within ourselves. The audience is encouraged to both sympathise with and be in constant dread of Esther’s unpredictable urges. This mix of fear and fascination is mirrored in the protagonist herself as she suffers a downward mental spiral, increasingly losing control over her own infantile obsession with her skin. The marriage of beauty and decay within Esther’s body similarly emphasises this sense of contradiction within her, contrasting opposites through juxtaposing images of contamination with acts of love, lush parties, and the beautified female form. Through her absence of an external antagonist, de Van therefore presents a character study which invites audiences to ruminate on their own perception of their bodies and their connection to their physical forms. In this sense, Dans Ma Peau is shown to be an internal film, one which finds its horror rooted in the compulsive tendencies within ourselves; the darkest desires we cannot shed nor reveal in public.