ND/NF: Not-so-charming vulnerability in Can Go Through Skin
In the opening moments of Can Go Through Skin, the debut feature from Dutch filmmaker Esther Rots, we meet Marieke (Rifka Lodeizen), a charmingly vulnerable young urbanite, as she attempts to get some friends together for drinks in her native Amsterdam. She’s eager for social interaction, but comfortable enough in her own skin to enjoy a solitary night of pizza, wine, and long hot bath when her plans fall through. And then, just like that – in a terrifying sequence only minutes into the film – everything changes for Marieke when the pizza deliveryman sneaks into her apartment and attacks her as she lies unawares in the tub.
The next time we see her, that vulnerability that was once so sweet has taken a paranoid edge. Marieke moves out of Amsterdam to the country, to a fixer-upper that she doesn’t bother fixing up at all. She steadfastly avoids human contact, ignoring knocks at the door, hardly bathing, and screaming at friendly neighbors to go away. Rots uses a jittery handheld camera to put us firmly in Marieke’s shoes – we spend so much time alone with her, hiding in her barren cottage, that we’re as startled and wary as she is when another person enters into her world.
As the film traces Marieke’s slow, tentative return to normalcy, I couldn’t help but feel a little frustrated with her insistent paranoia and Rots’ overemphasis on the mundane. But I do give the director much credit for taking the film in interesting directions and giving it a loose, ambling vibe you wouldn’t expect from a film about a sexual assault victim.
In fact, the film I’d most compare it to is one with a very different heroine, Lynne Ramsey’s Morvern Callar, which also employs striking camerawork and occasionally transcendent use of pop music to create an intimate, nonjudgmental portrait of a woman working her way through a serious trauma. While Can Go Through Skin doesn’t reach the heights of Ramsey’s film, it’s still worth seeing and distinguishes Rots as a filmmaker to watch for in the future.
Tim Young also writes for I Heard Different.