Monday, December 11, 2006

White Skin – review


Directed by: Daniel Roby

Release Date: 2004

Contains spoilers

Also known as La Peau Blanche, this French language Canadian film was high on my lists of must see movies, which could have proved a mistake. I had such high hopes that it would have been easy to have been disappointed. Luckily I wasn’t.

I must also state that this nearly became a ‘Vamp or Not?’ discussion, there is definitely some genre blurring here and the film is very much a character and dialogue driven arthouse movie, so if that sort of film doesn’t float your boat then you could find yourself disappointed.

We begin with two roommates Thierry (Marc Paquet) and Henri (Frédéric Pierre) discussing colour of skin and racial issues. Thierry is white and Henri is black, and this film makes no bones that it is, at heart, a film about racial issues. It is Thierry’s birthday and Henri treats them both to a pair of hookers. They go to a hotel and Henri goes with the redhead, Marquise (Jessica Malka), whilst Thierry is with the brunette (Isabelle Guérard).

Thierry is unsure about the transaction that is about to take place and the girl thinks he would rather be with Marquise but he explains that he dislikes redheads. It is not the hair but the paleness of their skin. He mentions being able to see the veins clearly through the skin and it makes him want to vomit. He hears a cry of pain and realises it is Henri.

Marquise makes her escapeHe bursts through the door and sees a blood drenched knife on the bed and Henri grasping a wound in his neck whilst being attacked by Marquise who is half naked and drenched in blood. Thierry removes the knife and Marquise opens the window and jumps down to the alley below, running off into the night.

Henri's woundThe two men make good their exit, with Thierry supporting the badly injured Henri. Once in the alley he checks the wound and it is bleeding profusely. Henri says he should call 911 but Thierry refuses as that would mean explaining that they had dated hookers. The next day we see them in their flat, Henri has been fixed up and we find that they concocted a story about being attacked by skinheads. The local black community are up in arms.

Thierry has been low marked for a college paper he submitted. He tries to talk to his professor but is told to return at office hours. Marianne Farley as ClaireWalking through the metro he spots a redheaded girl busking, we later discover that she is called Claire (Marianne Farley). He follows, but looses her and wanders back to the flat in a daze. There is a nice bit of genre cross-over here as, in the flat, Henri and his girlfriend Sandra (Anna Beaupré Moulounda) are watching the film Rabid.

Thierry loses interest in school but eventually manages to track down Claire. She seems uninterested at first but he persuades her to go and eat with him and they then end up having sex. She seems distant afterwards and then purposefully avoids him. He finds her and, despite her saying that she wants nothing to do with him, they end up in bed and sleep together again. Afterwards she again says it was a mistake – but then admits that she has cancer. That night Henri sees her go to the bathroom and take out the used condom, though we are not sure at that point Henri later says he saw her eat the sperm from it.

Claire has chemo- therapy though her doctor (Marcel Sabourin) needs to retest her results as the blood-work seems to have been contaminated. Thierry also meets her family and discovers that one of her sisters is Marquise. We then realise that all the family are vampires and that Claire’s illness is due to her refusal to feed. Claire wants a normal life but her mother wants her better and Marquise is somewhat psychotic and wants to tidy up her loose ends.

The vampires in this are unusual and the genre becomes a little confused. The word vampire is not used and, indeed, they are referred to as succubi. This does not sit awfully internet image of a 'succubus'well as succubi drain energy through sex and not by eating individuals. Indeed these creatures are flesh eaters as well as blood drinkers. At one point Henri performs a search for succubi on the net and the pictures he finds are very vampiric in nature. Just to further confuse the genres, when Henri is trying to convince Thierry that Claire is a succubus he mentions, as a throwaway comment, the word zombie.

Jessica Malka as MarquiseThey are very strong we discover and when they indulge in feeding, as their nature demands, they are very resilient; indeed we see Marquise run over at one point and yet she vanishes into the night and is not killed and if Claire feeds they believe her cancer will cure itself. They say they are the next evolutionary step for humanity though conversley they are accused of being mutations and parasites. They need humans, not only to feed upon but for reproduction – they only birth girls. They wait for the birth of a male child when, as they say, they will become humanity. For another movie that examines a vampire type creature which is the next stage of our evolution see Jean Rollin's The Nude Vampire.

It is not directly said but intimated, with the cancer, the hair and skin colouring and a melanoma behind Claire’s ear that the filmmakers have taken account of the sunlight myth but, rather than supernaturally causing them to burst into flame, they will be susceptible to its natural detrimental effects. This was very clever. As for other ways they might be killed it seems, resilience aside, that the way in which a human would be killed suffices, for example a bullet in the brain will kill one of these vampires as it would a human. They have no fangs and religion plays no part in the movie.

The acting and cinematography are excellent. The acting needed to be so as this is entirely character driven. There are some violent moments, some half seen gore but the film relies on strong characterisation and that is what we get. We believe in these characters and that makes believing in the women’s nature easy.

What we have here is a very clever, well shot film that does interesting things with the genre. It would have been easy to go down the ‘vamp or not?’marquise feeds line but at its heart this is definitely a vampire movie, just a different take on the genre. The racial aspects can be a little in your face at times, but fit the mood of the film. Thierry is clearly not racist in the classic sense and yet dislikes redheads because of their skin colour (highlighting the absurdity of racism), Claire is uncomfortable around coloured people and much play is made on the origin of the species and the way in which people of colour are treated in society generally. It is interesting that Thierry is so drawn to Claire, and vice versa, it is almost as though evolution is choosing how it will move on and the two are unable to fight against nature.

This is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, that is all too clear, but I found it a stimulating and very enjoyable movie. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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