Review by Louise Lin
SCUM Rating: ★ ★ ★☆ ☆
Braised Pork Rinds will never taste the same again.
Having watched sick films in varying degrees over the years I thought I had been desensitized to the point whereby nothing fazes me anymore…until Dans Ma Peau appeared on the radar and I had to let the curiosity of a cat ruin my pork rinds. Thoroughly disturbing and excruciatingly painful to sit through, this film has sent one too many noobs stumbling for the restrooms, hands clapped over ballooning cheeks. That didn’t happen to me, but I stopped playing tug-of-war with the pork rinds in my bowl of kway chap.
The story begins at a party that Esther is attending with her closest friend Sandrine. Mid-party, she takes a stroll in the pitch-black backyard littered with construction debris because…why not? She falls and severely lacerates her leg, yet the injury is not felt until she notices she’s tracking blood in a well-lit bathroom. Fascinated by the injury, or perhaps the lack of sensitivity to it, she starts to see her own hide as a separate entity and embarks on an adventure of self-mutilation. When she takes it to the next phenomenal level of self-cannibalism (and apparently like me she has a bad habit of playing with her own food), it no longer seems an exploration fuelled by curiosity, but one culminating in sexual ecstasy. She fervently retreats from a business dinner to a hotel as if to meet her lover for a rendezvous; she devours her arm with the same amount of passion and gusto that echoes an earlier scene when she was “devouring” her boyfriend’s lips. It is reminiscent of Moebius, where we were told our “whole body is genital”. The equally bizarre movie had castrated father and son team explore the pleasure-pain zone and bring themselves to orgasm by abrading their skins with rocks. (WARNING: Castrated people please don’t try this at home!)
Whilst the plot sounds like a classic recipe for a gore fest, the film itself focused on cerebral rather than visceral shocks. The worst was left to your imagination, which only made it more unsettling. There are no demonic creatures; no crazed killers wielding chainsaws. The non-thrilling horror is tinged with profound sadness as we watch a common woman descend into madness and a bright young life frittered away. For a directorial debut, French Filmmaker Marina De Van (who also wrote the screenplay and starred as the main character) has created a little masterpiece. De Van used her odd beauty to full advantage. The violence to herself, nauseating as it is, was done in an artistic almost florid display and the shots, cropped tight, focused on her mesmerizing bloodied gaze while the nastier action went on.
The film never offers any clear explanation for her horrifying degeneration. At first glance, Esther is an intelligent woman who seems very well put together. She appears to be doing well career-wise, socializes actively and enjoys a bourgeois lifestyle with a doting boyfriend. But as the story unravels, we see that her life is not as peachy as it looks. Esther’s supposed friendship with Sandrine is filled with petty rivalries. Esther has no qualms making snide remarks about Sandrine’s work and they become estranged after Esther is promoted to a position that Sandrine had been eyeing. The pressure cooker firm that Esther works for is so preoccupied with incessant deadlines that they neither notice nor care that one of their employees is tearing herself apart physically and mentally. Although Esther’s boyfriend Vincent is concerned by her self-destructive behavior, his attention is diverted by their financial status and the new corporate job he’s about to take. Quicker than you can say steak tartare, he alienates himself as she continues a losing battle with her emotional instability. Esther’s body issues may have alarmed her friends and loved ones, but they all act detached, even when it’s blatantly obvious that she’s causing herself considerable harm.
Does Esther truly desire the life choices she strives towards or is she just giving in to what society expects of her? Throughout the film, we see examples of Esther yielding to the pressure of such expectations. She wouldn’t deign to use networking for her job initially but ends up flirting facilely with the boss’s friend. She was reluctant to drink wine offered by her client but obliges after her boss beckoned her to do so, and subsequently imbibes freely as if with a defiant vengeance. She might possess impeccable social charms, but she’d rather tread through an impossibly dangerous yard than mingle with partygoers. Esther conforms to the rules of society like an insentient being – like the piece of meat she thinks she is. In American Psycho, it was the same emptiness and vapidity of his yuppie lifestyle that led Patrick Bateman to plunge into depths of extreme violence.
Was her self-destruction an act of rebellion? An existential crisis? Was she acting out like an animal trapped, her primal instincts causing her to tear and nibble at her own body in frustration? In the climax, Esther discovers she could not preserve her own skin, and therefore like everything else in her life, it was not something she could hold on to. The movie ends on the premise that Esther will always be a soulless, vacuous vessel, who lives as though she were already dead.