The film work of French writer/director/actress Marina De Van veers between enchantingly enthralling (8 Women) and brazenly confrontational (In My Skin). After making a name for herself as a regular collaborator with François Ozon (she’s starred in See the Sea and Sitcom, and she wrote 8 Women and Under the Sand), De Van has since branched out with her own brand of fiercely intellectual and visceral cinema.
Born in 1971, De Van studied Philosophy at Sorbonne University before enrolling at the prestigious film school FEMIS. Here she would meet and befriend future filmmaker Ozon, forming a bond that would fertilise some of the most important and interesting films to ride the crest of the latest New Wave of French cinema.
Like Cronenberg, De Van approaches her recurring concerns with the philosophical precision of a scalpel. Her work falls firmly into the sub-genre of cinema du corps/cinema of the body/body-horror, and it is in this most unsettling field of horror where she contemplates her twisted fantasies and preoccupations – mainly the increasing schism between mind/soul and body. In My Skin approaches this difficult subject matter head on and unflinchingly. The increasing dislocation the protagonist Esther (De Van at her feral best) feels from her own body, is shot in unnerving close up and in as matter of fact a way as you like. She soon becomes obsessed with opening the wound on her leg and creating new wounds all over her body. Before long she’s also eating slices of skin she removes from her own body. It wasn’t enough for De Van to write and direct this feverish nightmare of self-cannibalism, she had to star in it, too – further cementing her status as one of the most fiercely original and down-right astounding French filmmakers of the last few years. Or self-indulgent narcissist. It’s a fine line!
De Van’s strange obsession with the idea of an individual becoming increasingly estranged from themselves, was taken to another level in her follow up film Don’t Look Back. Sophie Marceau portrays a nervous writer whose first work of fiction is rejected by her publisher. She becomes increasingly cut off from her family and friends. She soon stops recognising her own face in the mirror and eventually sees those around her as being different looking too. She believes there is another world in the mirror, and before long she becomes the strange woman reflected back at her from the mirror (Monica Bellucci). Psychogenic fugue or eerie tale of possession – Don’t Look Back intrigues, chills and showcases De Van’s shrewd aptitude for spinning twisted, brain-teasing yarns.
Love her or loathe her, you can't deny that Marina De Van makes downright provocative genre films that blow many of her other horror contemporaries out of the water.