"Can Go Through Skin": Skin Deep

in 8th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Miguel Somsen

It can go through the skin, aim for the heart and possess your soul. Or you can pretend it never happened. Either way it’s going to be tough dealing with. Marieke, a brunette in her late twenties (a role played with perfection by the young actress Rifka Lodeizen), has just been sexually assaulted in her own flat in Amsterdam. The pizza delivery man looked harmless, but he just went through the skin, aimed for the heart and he now possesses Marieke’s soul. That’s just the beginning of Can Go Through Skin (Kan door huid heen), winner of International Film Critics’ prize at Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF 09), Romania.          

All this happened during the same night when Marieke was trying to recover from the breakup with her boyfriend. Actually, “revenge” was the first message that the audience ever saw written in this movie, a word of an immediate list of things for Marieke not to forget, like groceries to buy the next morning or the closet walls that need to be redone. “Revenge”, she scribbled. Everything here has a sort of delayed meaning, a double-entendre in the making; just as if the director were saying to us: “We’ll get back to you! We’ll get back to you!”.        

Marieke survives the traumatic experience, but the shaky violence remains among us. In fact, the powerful opening sequence has a life of its own and will follow us as the movie carries on: at home, Marieke is thrown into the bathtub by a shady presence no-one saw coming, and the scene works like a fast-paced revision of a Hitchcock movie, with a simultaneous mix of suspense, aggression and survival. A last-minute intervention provides Marieke with a second act in her own life: she lives to tell the story and then flees the city, seeking shelter in the wintery countryside of Zeeland in the Netherlands. That’s when the movie really starts. That’s where Marieke will face her own “hinterland”.          

Fresh from the Berlinale 2009, and now winner of the FIPRESCI International Film Critics’ Prize in the 8th edition of Transylvania International Film Festival (TIFF 09), Can Go Through Skin is director’s Esther Rots outstanding first feature film. She had two shorts presented in Cannes some years ago, and Can Go Through Skin actually started as a movie that could go either way – long or short. To the press in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, home of TIFF, Esther Rots talked about the “organic flow” of her filmmaking, and this movie is the natural expression of that – in every sense of the word. Marieke runs away from it all and hides in a rusty old shack that needs total refurbishment. The metaphor is there: nature will help her rebuild the house and herself. But can this organic flow of wounds, pain and shellshock be that easy to heal? Will nature provide a space for repentance?

Despite the straightforwardness of the subject, there’s something very unique and universal in this storytelling: like the main character, Esther Rots never compromises, she never feels tempted to choose the easy way, to answer all the questions, to point at all the directions, to fulfil every promise suggested. Can Go Through Skin is not a feminist manifesto, it is a personal and compelling journal that reads like a global essay of a lonely woman. Sometimes the island is not a man but a woman, a woman you can neither reach with your hand, nor explore with a single glance.            

More than a treaty on human nature, Can Go Through Skin is a treaty on woman’s nature, the darkness that rises when everything you took for granted is taken away. The hand of composer Dan Geesin provides the film with a soundtrack that works solemnly like a riot of noise over music, recalling the humming of nature’s ghosts, like a void that works as a passage from yesterday’s trauma to tomorrow’s hope. Yes, this movie will go through the skin. Yours, mine, everybody’s. Sometimes this pain is the price you have to pay to achieve greatness and peace.

Edited by Birgit Beumers