Content Warning: Skins is an anthology film where many stories intersect around sexual abuse.
Skins (Pieles) is the debut feature length film from writer/director Eduardo Casanova. He is an actor turned director who called on every resource he had--namely a phenomenal group of actors he had performed with before--to craft an ambitious film.
Skins is an anthology film about people with physical deformities trying to find respect in a world that casts them aside. It's also a film about people who fetishize physical deformities. These worlds intersect around a brothel specializing in any kind of person you want.
That connecting thread, the brothel, is where most of the problems in Skins stem from. The opening sequence is played for dark comedy, but is just upsetting instead. A man flips through photos of workers at the brothel, not finding what he wants. The elderly madam--completely nude and covered in sweat--offers him more unusual subjects until he admits what he actually wants. I'm not sure there's a good way to include pedophilia as a subject of a film, but it sure isn't opening your film with a scene where a man buys sex with a young girl in a failed attempt to stop him from fantasizing about his newborn baby.
The madam insists that everything is safe in her brothel and no one is hurt. That's where the crux of the film actually lies. Each of the main characters--people with physical deformities or disabilities--is being shielded from the world through isolation. The young girl at the brothel has no eyes and otherwise can't care for herself. The madam thinks she is protecting these people from the world, but is actually exploiting them for profit. If she wasn't presented as an underage escort, this girl who cannot see what is being done to her would be a powerful metaphor for sexual exploitation. It briefly seems like maybe she wasn't actually underage and was acting, but a later scene shows the same man much older with a grown son. It's a strong idea ruined by a young filmmaker reaching for everything he can to make a statement.
There are other characters who are isolated from the world--by others or by choice--who also get their own stories. The young woman with a reversed digestive system (another sick sight gag, as he has a hairy anus for a mouth) is cared for by her father on the condition she doesn't leave the house. The woman with large tumors on her face chooses to never leave her house and instead have her boyfriends visit her. A little person is the actor behind a popular children's series who just does not want to hide behind a suit anymore. An obese woman only leaves her restaurant to visit the brothel from the opening scene. A young man with Body Integrity Identity Disorder wants to remove both of his legs so he can be happy like a mermaid.
The problem with Skins is one of ambition. Casanova tries to craft a masterpiece of satire about the other, sexuality, and self-actualization. He's clearly well-studied in film and has great technical skills. At its best, Skins is reminiscent of Pedro Almodovar, Bruce LaBruce, John Waters, and Roy Andersson. Frankly, it's best viewed as a spinoff of Andersson's A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, as Skins uses the same style of isolated camerawork and absurd narrative connections.
At its worst, Skins is like a bad live-action episode of South Park. That one story arc about the woman with the reversed digestive system is largely a series of disgusting sight gags. She can only eat liquids with an enema and a funnel. She farts out of her mouth if she blows air. Her diction is very poor as the anus cannot form normal consonant sounds. And, again, her mouth is replaced with a hairy anus. She actually has the most brutal story, too, that is meant to have a surreal twist and empowerment moment that is, instead, just sad. You don't get to turn a character into a sight gag and then use them to fight against patriarchy and victimization of the other, but only for one brief moment; she's immediately a joke again and the punchline to someone else's story. *
Skins is a mix of wonderful and terrible moments that certainly make it an interesting film to watch. Casanova has the potential to be a wonderful filmmaker, but his feature-length debut betrays his ambition with his lack of experience on a larger scale. The good far outweighs the bad, but the bad just makes you wonder what a more experienced director could have done with this concept.
*In defense of this storyline, it is adapted from one of Casanova's short films "Eat My Shit" and works far better in its own isolated universe than in the context of a far more realistic film. Its inclusion is twofold, allowing him to work with the same actresses again on a larger project and to play on his earlier notoriety to promote this film to a wider audience. Her story feels so removed from the world because it is literally from a different project.
Skins is currently streaming on Netflix.
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