Esther Rots' debut feature 'Kan door huid heen' ('Can Go Through Skin') has its official premiere at the upcoming Berlin Film Festival, but it was screened out of competition in Rotterdam on Saturday. Living up to its poetically corrosive title, this intense, subjective account of a woman's unravelling mind takes 'Repulsion' to the chilling Dutch countryside.
After being the victim of a random act of violence, Marieke (a stunning role of Rifka Lodeizen) moves to the countryside and tries to make a new start. At first her erratic behavior, alternating between feeble attempts to renovate the dilapidated house and spells of utter lethargy, may be part of coming to terms with her traumatic experience. But in the isolation of the house, whose growing disarray reflects her state of mind, Marieke proves unable to give her life a new direction and loses herself in paranoid delusions and revengeful fantasies.
Unfortunately Rots takes the angel of vengeance subplot a bit too far, even if it only plays out in her protagonist's deranged mind. (Her director's statement suggests Marieke's radicalization to be real, which would make matters worse, but at least the film leaves it open to interpretation.)
As a psychological study of vulnerability and shattered integrity, however, the film convincingly treads the thin line between coping and losing. Here its unpredictable, associative narration, the nervous, subjective camera (Lennert Hillege) and the soundtrack (Dan Geesin), a combination of soothing songs and disquieting instrumental parts, all add to convey Marieke's desperate struggle.
Rots, who wrote, directed and edited 'Kan door huid heen', made a few successful short films, two of which were shown in Cannes. Her latest short is online: 'Dialoogoefening no. 1: Stad' ('Dialogue Excercise no. 1: City'; no subtitles).