2017 / 77m - Spain
Comedy, Fantasy
Skins poster

Should you want to watch Eduardo Casanova's Skins [Pieles], come prepared. Don't watch it with your parents, unless you feel comfortable watching weird stuff with them. Don't watch it with your kids, unless you want to do some serious explaining afterwards. And don't watch it with your spouse, unless she's aware of your weird taste in films. Skins is racy, relentless and uncompromising. It's a one of a kind film that walks a very fine line between absurd comedy and drama, but it's going to be divisive no matter how open-minded the audience. As for me? I was totally blown away by it.

screen capture of Skins [Pieles]

The funny thing about Eduardo Casanova is that his film feels like an extension of his persona. Not so much because Skins is about deformities, but his general composure and look just make sense once you've traveled through his 80-minute long feature. In Spain, he's better known for his acting career, though he's been making short films ever since he started working in film. Skins is his first full-length feature and draws from his short film Eat My Shit, a not-so-literal but still very direct reference to the most eye-popping character in Skins.

Skins is a film about beauty, but not in the most common sense of the world. The film is populated with people who are in some way broken or deformed. Casanova collects a wide variety of characters, each of them sporting a very specific deformity. Some of these are quite realistic, others are grotesque and absurd. And it's not just about physical appearances either, some of them are dealing with some serious mental problems. An interesting twist that adds a little extra depth to the film.

The film starts in a brothel infamous for only employing physically deformed people. A pedophile is soliciting the lady of the house (a 70-year old who walks around in the nude) about meeting with a young, eye-less girl. It sounds like a vile and ugly setup, but there's a certain calm and elegance to these first scenes that makes for a very confusing intro. And that's just the beginning, because Casanova keeps piling on similarly weird and uncomfortable setups, creating an intricate patchwork of interwoven stories.

screen capture of Skins [Pieles]

Pink and purple, that's what you'll remember after seeing Skins. Based on the plot and themes you might have expected a grim, gritty and sullen-looking film, but this ain't A Serbian Film. Skins is one of the most meticulously styled films I've seen in my life. Everything, just e-ve-ry-thing, is either pink or purple and absolutely nothing feels random or by accident. The camera work too is very deliberate, with well-planned shots and exquisitely constructed frames. It all adds up to create an extremely soft, pleasant and feminine look that provides a strong and telling contrast with the film's darker elements.

The soundtrack is probably the least subversive part of the film. It's not boring or uneventful, in fact it's quite eclectic, bringing together some very different styles of music, but none of the musical choices feel as surprising or as daring as the other elements of the film. At all times the music feels appropriate and fitting, effectively adding something to the scene but never steering it in an unexpected direction. It's a pretty good, fun score that does the film plenty of favors, but in contrast with the rest it's quite safe and timid.

As for the actors, Casanova didn't spare them in the least. He doesn't go easy on the ones who are actually deformed, often ogling their imperfections with great diligence and detail. The actors sporting prosthetics don't have it exactly easy either, keeping a straight face while still finding a way to move the audience, no matter how grotesque they may look. There are no real lead characters so one or two lacking performances wouldn't have hurt the film in any meaningful way, but everyone put in splendid performance and the acting is just all-round great.

screen capture of Skins [Pieles]

Skins is a film that could've gone wrong in so many ways. It could've easily turned out to be a simple, crude comedy or one of those films with an overbearing, nagging social conscience. Luckily Casanova went beyond that. None of the characters are saints, none are without faults, but at the same time they're all likeable. Underneath all its flashy exterior make-up and twisted interior pain lies a film that's humane, moving and sweet, while still housing some very edgy and in your face comedy. It's an insanely difficult balance to achieve, but Casanova made it work.

Even so, Skins is poised to be divisive. It's just too weird and out there to appeal to a really broad audience. Still, it's extremely rare to see a film where a director can go full out and deliver his distinct, unique vision with such flair and panache, without having to make any obvious compromises or commercial trade-offs. For that reason alone Skins is worth a try. If you're watching it together with someone else though, do make sure you feel comfortable enough watching weird stuff with that person, because the awkwardness just piles up and it just gets progressively weirder as time passes by.

Eduardo Casanova made a stunning first feature. It's hyper-stylized, extremely daring and surprisingly well-balanced. There's a peculiar mix of easiness and awkwardness that is quite unique, on top of that the film works on multiple levels. It's a superb dark comedy, a strong drama and it offers a great spin on the "beauty is on the inside" saying without becoming too pushy, one-dimensional or judgmental. While Casanova will need a second feature film to prove he's more than just a one-trick pony, Skins is a testament of his talent and regardless of his future career, it's one of the best films I've seen this year.