Film Review: Can Go Through Skin

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Berlin International Film Festival --  Forum
More Berlin reviews

BERLIN -- Newcomer Esther Rots is one of those talented young directors who is probably too imaginative for her own good. In "Can Go Through Skin," her first feature, she's made an often striking film, on both the visual and aural levels, that is so elliptical (or less charitably, confused) in its storytelling that it's virtually impossible to follow. This, in turn, makes it difficult to really care about the fate of the main character, Marieke (Rifka Lodeizen), whom Rots' camera nevertheless tracks relentlessly, every second of the film.

Commercial potential in all but the most aesthetically rarefied of venues seems slight and that of ancillary markets not much better. "Skin" will probably have its biggest effect as a calling card for what this gutsy and smart director can do once she learns how to tell a story and becomes more considerate of her audience's needs.

Presumably real scenes and what seem to be fantasy scenes freely intermingle, with little or no signposting, hence it's difficult to know exactly what happens. Thus, every viewer will be on his or her own in reconstructing the plot. This particular viewer, abetted by the summary in the Forum's catalog, saw a film in which Marieke, drunk after being dumped by her boyfriend, gets raped by a pizza delivery man. She moves to the countryside and desultorily rebuilds a broken-down old house, but finds no peace from her mental demons there either. A local man with a generous pot belly (Opbrouck) ultimately brings her a modicum of domestic contentment, which is foiled (I think) by a severely undersketched subplot hatched in an Internet chat room about killing a taxi driver in order to revenge her rape.

The entire film is shot with a handheld camera in a hyper-nervous manner, with edits coming at MTV-level frequency. At first this technique feels crisp and edgy, but it soon enough becomes annoying, both visually and psychologically. Worse is the extensive sound design and original music, both highly touted in press materials, and both of which draw so much attention to themselves that the viewer has two fewer reasons to care about Marieke.

Rots is obviously trying to re-create the feel of a character's interior state -- something the movies have been attempting to do, mostly unsuccessfully, since 1895 -- but because we know so little about her, the psychology seems abstract and unconnected to a real person. (It goes without saying that we're not given a shred of backstory about Marieke.)

Rots is great at creating atmospherics, like the raw feeling of winter in the countryside, but the rapid, unmarked interweaving of the real, the imagined, and the felt is still something best left to the written word.

Production: Rots Filmwerk, Netherlands Film Institute
Cast: Rifka Lodeizen, Wim Opbrouck
Writer-Director: Esther Rots
Producer: Hugo Rots, Esther Rots, Trent
Director of photography: Lennert Hillege
Production designer: Vera van de Sandt, Tess Ellis
Music: Dan Geesin
Costume designer: Stephanie Marien
Editor: Esther Rots
Sales: Films Boutique
No rating, 97 minutes