Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Overlooked DVD of the month - MYSTERIOUS SKIN

This month’s overlooked DVD pick is MYSTERIOUS SKIN - a beautifully scripted and acted movie about two boys, Neil and Brian, who are the victims of sexual abuse by their little league coach. Brian suppresses the memories of the abuse; blacking out the two episodes and becoming almost de-sexualised. As he grows up he desperately tries to rationalise the physical symptoms of trauma – wetting the bed, nose-bleeds – and believes that he may have been abducted by aliens. However, a face in a dream leads him to Neil. Neil is fully aware of how both he and Brian have been abused. His relationship with the abuser is all the more complex because, as a small child he found the coach incredibly attractive and wanted to be “the special one” – the first-choice victim. As a teen, Neil becomes a hustler, landing himself in ever more extreme situations.

The subject matter of this movie is painful but it is handled with an admirable balance of realism and sensitivity. The director, Greg Araki, does not shy away from depicting the details of the abuse but manages to do so in a way that is not visually explicit – largely through using PoV shots. Moreover, strange to say, I found this a remarkably hopeful film. Neil’s mum – a single woman with a frenetic love-life – is actually very loving and far more in step with Neil’s life than Brian’s parents are with his. (Although this is relative – she clearly has no idea he is a prostitute.) Neil also has the unconditional love and support of his two best friends. Michelle Trachtenberg is particularly good as Neil’s best friend who is obsessive about his physical safety. Moreover, the final scene where Brian finally fully understands what he has been through is strangely peaceful. In addition, the movie has flashes of wonderful dark comedy to relieve the tension.
Joseph Gordon Levitt, in the lead role, displays an impressive range – from portraying the grittiest of drama to almost screwball comedy.

So, for the beautiful handling of painful subject matter; the delicate blend of grit, hope and humour; and the outstanding performances, I highly recommend MYSTERIOUS SKIN.

MYSTERIOUS SKIN toured the festivals in 04/05 to great critical acclaim. However, it was on release for just a nano-second in the UK and US in May 2005. The good news is that it is now available on DVD.

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