290. SKINS (2017)

Pieles

“I do not attribute to nature either beauty or deformity, order or confusion. Only in relation to our imagination can things be called beautiful or ugly, well-ordered or confused.”–Baruch Spinoza

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Eduardo Casanova

FEATURING: Ana Polvorosa, Candela Peña, Macarena Gómez, Carmen Machi, Jon Kortajarena, Secun de la Rosa, Itziar Castro, Antonio Durán ‘Morris’, Ana María Ayala, Eloi Costa

PLOT: Unable to control his impulses, a tormented pedophile visits a madam who specializes in “unusual” tastes. From the catalog she offers, he selects a girl born with no eyes, and brings her a gift of two jewels. The lives of these two, along with other internally and externally deformed people including a woman with an anus for a mouth and a boy who wishes he was a mermaid, intersect in surprising ways seventeen years later.

Still from Skins [Pieles] (2017)

BACKGROUND:

  • Eduardo Casanova was a child star on Spanish television. Starting in 2009, he used the money and connections he made acting to make a series of short films. Many of the eventual cast members of Skins appear in these shorts. One, 2015’s “Eat My Shit,” features Ana Polvorosa in an incident that later made it into Skins (although the tone of the short is more juvenile and jokey than the feature film).
  • Underground director and actress (who starred in one of Casanova’s earlier shorts and appears in a small role as a psychiatrist here) served as producers.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: This pink and purple freak fantasia provides many possibilities, both disturbing and beautiful. The obvious choice would be Samantha, the girl with the inverted digestive system. If at all possible, it’s best that her appearance be left as a surprise, although that may be hard to do given her prominence in the trailer and the fact that she’s the character everyone describes when describing the movie to their friends. We’ll go in a different, but equally memorable, direction by selecting Cristian’s mermaid-boy fantasy, which features the lavender-headed outcast seated on a rock crusted by pink seashells in a purple-walled heaven while fish rain around him.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Pink merkin; the prettiest eyes in the world; freak fetish

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  From the opening scene of a reluctant pedophile crying as he makes his selection in a highly specialized brothel, decorated all in pink and run by an elderly madame who works in the nude, Skins‘s crazy credentials are never in doubt. Perhaps the most shocking things aren’t the deformities and perversions but the compassion and intricate plotting, which suggest depths beyond Skins‘ freak show surface.


Promotional video for Skins (Imagine Film Festival Screening)

COMMENTS: A weird, glittering pink gem lies hidden deep in the bowels of Netflix. Skins tells a series of vignettes—some tender, some dark, and all absurd to varying degrees—about people who are deformed, internally or externally, but whose fates are linked together. It’s set in a world like our own, with Instagram posts and cell phones, but it’s also strange, largely because every space in it has been decorated exclusively by a gay alien interior decorator with a fetish for the color pink. The story involves pedophilia, an eyeless prostitute, rape, prejudice, abandonment, child abuse, and self-hurting. Yet, it’s strangely touching; the director clearly loves these struggling freaks and wants them to be happy. But he knows it’s a hard world for queer things, particularly when they have anuses on their faces.

Given the fact that it’s set in a world of freaks, it’s surprising that the most unexpected thing about Skins is actually not the (excellent) makeup, but the story’s intricate plotting. The film involves ten major characters (and some minor ones), each with their own plot arc, each of who plays a role in another’s story without understanding the impact they have on their lives. This type of anthology storyline, familiar from the films of and subverted by in Pulp Fiction and in Magnolia, is informally known as “hyperlink cinema.” It’s a difficult form, but audiences find it particularly satisfying when it’s pulled off. Casanova does an impressive job with his first feature-length screenplay, and although there is no single overarching narrative epiphany, the script’s synergies create a sense of invisible community among these otherwise isolated and shunned individuals. One character’s death may lead to another’s salvation, which leads yet another character to find her independence. It’s significant that most—although not all—of the characters get happy endings. It’s a sign of the love that the director has for them. He may not be able to save them all, but he does his best. Even the most monstrous of them—the pedophile—is treated with understanding. “Some people are born to suffer,” says the madam, “and if they are made to suffer, it doesn’t matter, because that’s what they were born for.” “That’s horrible,” is the man’s reply, and he is correct. You should not trust the words a nude grandma who’s trying to pimp out an eyeless eleven year old. Later, she reverses herself: “she won’t suffer,” she reassures the John. That, too, is a lie. Bad and good alike, whether our deformity is obvious or hidden, we all suffer.

The way the characters actions have unintended, and unknown, consequences in other’s lives rings simultaneously true and false. Skins sets up its camp in an in-between place, with emotional realism hidden under a façade of the incredible. Samantha’s disfigurement is both obscene and funny, but the pain in her eyes as she gazes at her scrapbook filled with lip and teeth stickers is real. Waitresses, even grotesquely obese ones, laugh at her, teen punks harass her: the ridicule and abuse she faces from strangers are the worst fears a person of her unique visage would face, if they existed. We’re not sure whether to laugh or sympathize. The situations are so weird that the artificial color scheme—everything is in some shade of either pink or light purple—actually provides us a margin of safety, reassuring us that this is a fantasy, and that it’s safe to have whatever reaction we want to. We can laugh or cry. If Skins was set in a realistic world of realistically deformed people, it would be too intense and sad to bear. As it is, the plot is clear, but the mixed moods confuse our emotional response. The first scene is horrifying, but the fact that the procuress is nude and has a patch of bright pink pubic hair—and a framed topless photograph of herself on the wall—puts us somewhat at ease, while still wondering whether this is something we should be laughing at.

Although it’s a black comedy, the freaks aren’t the butt of the jokes—with the exception of the butt-faced girl. The man who is attracted to mutants elicits the most mockery; he scandalizes his mom when she catches him with his pants down around his ankles while looking at a picture of his girlfriend, who has half her face melted off. It’s also funny that his beloved freak is cheating on him—far from being grateful for the attentions of a “normal guy,” she ignores his phone call because she’s busy testing her bed-springs with a man she prefers. Their awkward dinner conversation reverses conventional notions of beauty as he cluelessly offends her while explaining the (hilariously shallow) depths of his attraction. (It’s like a white guy explaining his jungle fever to his black girlfriend to get her horny). The freak chaser also features in the film’s penultimate scene, a grossout climax that comes right before the emotional climax. Even though his inverted prejudices make him the subject of much of the film’s humor, he experiences sorrow, too, abandoned both by his mother and his girlfriend. Sympathetically, the script sees him as a tragicomic victim of his own fetishism.

Skins shows a sure auteurial hand in plotting and art direction, and this debut is even more impressive when you realize Casanova is only 26 years old. He is frequently compared to and Pedro Almodóvar. There is certainly a “queer” sensibility in Skins‘ kitchy perversions, although it’s not a gay movie per se (there is one lesbian relationship, four heterosexual ones, and one artificial insemination). The boy who wants to be a mermaid–suffering from “body identity disorder,” a real but extremely rare condition in which people believe their own limbs are alien appendages and want to have them removed—seems an obvious metaphor for gender dysphoria. Although the film works at evoking the anxieties of being a “freak” in the heterosexual world, its appeal is much broader. It speaks to the freakiness inside all of us; even the most outwardly normal characters hide secret deformities in their psychology or sexuality. Skins praises our individual differences and calls on us to embrace them, while at the same time acknowledging that championing our own inner weirdness may come with a severe price. If you listen closely, you may hear the words “gooble gobble, gooble gobble, one of us, one of us…” We accept you, now accept yourself.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“This is a lot of characters, plotlines and ideas to handle, but Skins just about makes it hang together by setting it in a separate but coherent world from ours — one that’s surreal and highly stylized, full of garish pastel interiors with heavily predominant pinks, which must have felt like a gift to production designer Idoia Esteban.”–Jonathan Holland, The Hollywood Reporter (festival screening)

“With this visually and conceptually startling debut from Eduardo Casanova, the question of how John Waters and Pedro Almodóvar’s love child would fare as a filmmaker might just have been answered… Through [a] lens of surreal exaggeration, Casanova shifts your averted gaze back at what’s seldom represented or even registered in the age of Tinder/Grindr.”–Zhou Ning-Su, The Film Stage (festival screening)

“Shamelessly grotesque and loaded with cult potential, Skins provides a weird experience that will surely divide the critics and audience alike.”–Nikola Gocic, NGBoo Art

OFFICIAL SITE:

PIELES – Eduardo Casanova – The page dedicated to Pieles on the director’s personal website has the film’s two trailers, stills, and links to buy merchandise, including t-shirts and a book (in Spanish)

IMDB LINK: Skins (2017)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Skins Trailer – Not safe-for-work Skins trailer (no “green band” trailer exists for the film)

Eduardo Casanova on Vimeo – Casanova’s short films are available on his Vimeo channel, along with some behind-the-scenes odds and ends (all content is marked “Mature,” mostly for good reason)

‘Skins’ Director Eduardo Casanova on Deformity, the Monstrosity of Aesthetics, and Influences – The director interviewed by Film Stage

Interview with Eduardo Casanova about his film PIELES – Video interview with Casanova at the Berlin Film Festival (translated into English)

Netflix Acquires Spain’s ‘Skins’ as It Drives Into Spanish Content – This Variety article uses Skins as a case study in describing Netflix’s Spanish strategy (and calls it a “social-drama”)

Skins (Pieles) – Cineuropa’s Skins page has basic info, a few stills, and links to news items and interviews

DVD INFO: At the time of this writing, Skins was available exclusively on Netflix (as far as we can tell, in both Europe and the USA). We’ll update this section if we get any news of future releases.

(This movie was nominated for review by several alert readers; “Clyde Lee,” who described it as ” very weird and very awesome,” was the first. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

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