Thursday, September 10, 2009

Best British Films: 15. Under the Skin

Thank God for this list. Without it I would never have discovered Samantha Morton's stunning film debut as Iris Kelly, a woman who loses her mother and then loses control. Carine Adler's Under the Skin is a fabulous, intimate film that I loved from frame one.

As the film begins, Iris admits insecurity within her family. "My mother loved flowers and her favorite flowers were roses. And so she called my sister Rose." Rose and their mother are together all the time, and Iris jealously resents their close relationship. When their mother dies, Rose and Iris are both grief-stricken, but it's Iris whose life spirals out of control.

Iris tries everything to overcome the shock of her mother's death. She drinks, breaks up with her longtime boyfriend, quits her job, dresses differently, moves into a seedy apartment, listens to a gospel choir. Eventually she decides the best way to extricate her pain is through sex. She compulsively masturbates and picks up various strangers for a string of sexual encounters that leave her feeling empty and used.

Rose is so wrapped up in her own suffering that she fails to see Iris's desperate cries for attention and help. The two sisters don't realize they are each exactly what the other needs to recover from their tragic loss.

Samantha Morton gives an inspired, fearless performance as a woman who tries to find herself after losing everything. It's the strongest debut role since Kate Winslet in Heavenly Creatures.


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