Watch the trailer to Skin and you’d be perfectly justified in assuming this was This is England albeit translated into Dutch, a kind of This is the Netherlands if you will. The setting is the late seventies against the backdrop of punks and skinheads as seen through the eyes of a young teenager. The familiar elements appear to be all present and correct: the less than happy family home; the black friend who will no doubt cause tensions later on the drama; the connection to neo-Nazi factions of the skinhead kids; the hair-cutting scene where are lead’s locks are reduced to a grade one all-over; and, of course, the ska soundtrack. It’s true that Shane Meadows’ film doesn’t have the monopoly on coming-of-age dramas set amongst the youth cults of the late seventies and early eighties, but then it’s also true that the quality of This is England is such that any potential retread, even if transposed to another country, is likely to have limited appeal. Thankfully Skin’s trailer can be slightly misleading…
A more instructive comparison point would be director Hanro Smitsman’s earlier Raak (Contact), which won the Golden Bear at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival for Best Short Film. This brisk 10-minute effort plays out like a miniature Amores Perros, taking a single moment (a brick thrown from a bridge at a moving car) and relating a trio of narratives which lead up to this potentially devastating outcome. One of these is that a young boy, disillusioned and inarticulately angry, whose unhappy family life leads to outpourings of violence including the one on which the entire film hinges. Frankie, the protagonist of Skin, though older, isn’t too far removed: he and his father barely communicate, whilst his mother is dying of cancer. As a result he also shares some of this inarticulate anger, which initially involves nothing more than a few scraps, but soon turns considerably darker. Firstly, as he gets entangled with some of the local neo-Nazis - and this despite his Jewish background and the fact his father was a Holocaust survivor - and secondly as the violence gets increasingly out of hand.
Interestingly the whole Jewish-neo-Nazi element is downplayed somewhat. It’s presence prompts thoughts of The Believer, Henry Bean’s 2007 feature, but essentially it serves as nothing more than to express just how lost Simon is. With communication at home at a bare minimum and visits to his mother in hospital restricted to the occasional sneaking past the nurse’s desk, it highlights his need to connect to something (anything) even if the experiences of his father and his own religious background should preclude it entirely. Smitsman plays such instances as awkward realities, nothing more; even the head-shaving scene is related more to the mother’s chemotherapy than it is any kind of political statement on Frankie’s part. Furthermore, the muted cinematography - handheld and purposefully dull - demonstrates just how far away from any nostalgic rendering we are; ultimately Skin is closer to the Dardennes, say, than it is Meadows.
Admittedly comparison to the Dardennes may be overstepping the mark somewhat. Skin served as Smitsman’s debut feature, coming after a handful of shorts and plenty of work in Dutch television where he still continues to toil. There has been one more feature since, the more genre-specific Schemer (Dusk) from 2010 that was picked up by Warner Bros in its native country but has yet to make the transition to English-speaking territories. Yet Skin retains the residue of the TV work, to the point where you could easily imagine it existing as a made for television feature. It is oftentimes resolutely uncinematic in its outlook - occasionally to its detriment as in the underdeveloped prison scenes which serve as a framework to the central flashbacks, though for the most part perfectly befitting its small dramas. Indeed, in the case of lead actor Robert de Hoog there is something especially pleasing in seeing such an ordinary face occupying much of the screen time, and he’s ably matched by the supporting cast. There’s no showboating or similar attempts to draw attention and this works immeasurably in Skin’s favour. As a result some may find the film too ‘minor’ to really work or stand out amongst the crowd, but really this is no bad thing.
Skin is the first release by High Point Home Entertainment, a new distribution company that will specialise in world cinema and documentary releases with aims of breaking into the theatrical market. Overseeing the label is Elisar Cabrera, former programmer of the Raindance Film Festival, which bodes well for introducing neglected arthouse gems to the UK. Based on this particular DVD release, they’ve gotten off to a good start. Admittedly the disc is extras-lite, though in terms of presentation there is little to complain about. Skin comes in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, is anamorphically enhanced and taken from a flawless print. Dirt and damage are non-existent and the transfer is such that no other untoward elements or issues enter the mix. The film is no doubt presented exactly as intended and captures that muted photography especially well. The soundtrack, which comes in both DD5.1 and DD2.0 form, is similarly clean and without problem, whilst the English subtitles are optional. Extras are limited to the This is England-alike trailer, which is a slight shame given the number of shorts Smitsman has made. As noted in the review there are definite connections with 2007’s Contact, but alas its additional presence was not to be. Nonetheless, at the very least the careful presentation of Skin - and the qualities of the film itself - make High Point a label worth keeping an eye on.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 12:08:24