What is beauty? Perhaps it can be found in a man’s badly burned face. Or in a woman with an anus for a mouth. In his first feature-length film, “Pieles” (Skins) – which elicited loud applause from the audience at this year’s Berlinale – director Eduardo Casanova tries to answer this age-old question with a slap in the face to the viewer.
The young director from Madrid has created a universe in which current beauty norms are dismantled by depicting authentic characters and launching a strong critique of conventionality. Casanova thus shows us that deformity is also beauty, but only when authentic. The key, he says, is to remain faithful to what lies inside.
The film tells the intertwining stories of a woman who has an anus for a mouth (and a mouth for an anus), a girl with no eyes, a man with a disfigured face, an obese person, a woman with dwarfism and a young man who mutilates himself because he does not recognise his legs as his own. All of these characters live out their daily lives at the margins of a society that has turned its back on them and which only affords them a narrow space to exist, steeped in squalor and scorn.
Fed up with having to shun their own reality, the protagonists face their cruel fate to ultimately shed their complexes and create stories filled with feeling and tenderness. Stories of love and overcoming. Casanova thus creates a film that may seem frivolous – above all due to the predominance of the colours pink and purple, as well as to the insolence of some of the characters – but it is one which sinks its roots into a dark moral pond in which average viewers quickly see the reflection of their own contradictions.
“‘Skins’ is a film about different people, and it is made for people who have a hard time seeing difference”, remarked Casanova at his film’s screening. The 25-year-old director began his career as an actor at the age of 12, playing the part of Fidel in the popular Spanish television show, Aída. From a very early age, he dreamt of becoming a film director, and with Skins he has seen his dream become reality – hand in hand with his producer and godfather, Alex de la Iglesia, who is also presenting a film at this year’s Berlinale.
Pieles is the only Spanish film to appear in the Panorama programme, the second most important of the Berlinale, and it has been nominated for Best Debut Film and a Teddy Award for distinguished LGBT cinema.