Monday, 7 February 2011

Random Women in Horror #31: Marina De Van

Body dysmorphia. Existentialism. Cannibalism. Psychological disintegration. Identity crisis. Murder mysteries as musicals.

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.

Her own feature debut In My Skin, is an unsettling, Cronenbergian descent into one woman’s frenzied psychological break-down and body mutilation after she suffers a disfiguring accident that leaves a massive gash in her leg. The film is an early addition to the current trend of dark and aggressive genre cinema coming out of France at the moment.

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.

6 comments:

RobocopsSadSide said...

In My Skin is one intense flick. It has been so long since I've seen it, but I remember one particular moment at a restaurant that makes me wince thinking about it.

James said...

Is that when she imagines her hand has screwed off and she starts stabbing it under the table with a fork?? Wince-much, indeed!

Drunketh said...

Own le film In My Skin and I love it!

Cody said...

Love her. In My Skin is one of my favorites - there is nothing else like it out there. Don't Look Back I didn't enjoy as much, but it was still obvious it was made by an amazingly talented filmmaker. Have you seen any of her short films? Alias, which is included on the DVD extras of In My Skin, is in my mind one of the most perfect short films ever made.

James said...

Alas Cody, I have not seen any of her short films. Must try to find them online. Speaking of perfect short films though, I recently watched some by Bruno Forzani and Hélène Cattet, the directors of Amer. Those guys love their giallo films! Wonderful to see the iconography of that genre utilised in such striking pieces.

Isabel Morciglio said...

I enjoyed that film. The writing and description is amazing. Congratulations!