Skin Deep ★★★★ Venice Film Festival

Skin Deep ★★★★ Venice Film Festival

A compelling, intimate gender identity drama, Alex Schaad’s feature directorial debut Skin Deep offers a fascinating look at relationships. With complex pitch-perfect performances, Skin Deep is a profound viewing.

At first glance, Leyla (Mala Emde) and Tristan (Jonas Dassler) seem like a happy young couple. But when they travel to a mysterious, remote island, a game of identities begins, which changes everything – their perception, their sexuality, their whole “self”. As a result, their relationship is in jeopardy, and they may never be who they once were again.

Schaad has delivered something fantastic here with Skin Deep. While having just the right amount of humour in place, it still manages to bring in enough questioning to stay with you. Relationships and people change over time, our partners are not the person they are now, and neither are we. We alter and become something new, for better or worse; it is natural. So, instead of the inside, the soul and personality of a person changing dramatically, what would happen if the physical changed? Are they still the same person that we fell in love with. They act and do everything as we know them to have done before. But they are different. Does that affect how we love them?

We see Tristan really struggle with this idea as he becomes more defensive and resistant to the changes happening on the island. His head either can’t or won’t accept that he and Leyla are different and continually becoming someone else, so his resistance to change and adapt to the relationship causes friction.

Whereas Leyla, originally just as resistant, falls for the changes, she is becoming someone her previous body would not exactly allow, and confidence grows within her as she takes on a man’s body. Is Tristan able to accept this change, or has it scuppered their relationship? As mentioned before, all of these performances are faultless, each getting their other characters just right that you could easily be as mesmerised by the performances as entranced by the story itself.

Skin Deep must have been an absolute treat for the cast; they get to play their character and be multiple characters within their own body. Seeing how each takes on the other personality in such an intricate and precise way is something to behold. If it was just two characters, that is fine enough, but it becomes all the more interesting when it is four and different genders. The fluidity, not just of the character’s narratives, but the ability of the actors to take on these new personalities is a great watch and just as much a treat for the audience as it would have been for them.

With so much going on, you would fear that the arcs of each character would be lost in the shuffle of Alex and Dimitrij Schaad’s story. Yet, they manage to ably keep it all together and allow each character enough time to be explored and gain something. Never do we feel that the story is played for laughs; there is a strong emotional weight present in Skin Deep that allows us to connect with it tremendously easily.

By touching upon the idea of loving the person and not just the body they live in, Skin Deep asks questions of its audience in a probing way. Who would we be in this situation? Would we accept the changes of our partner and show that love really is deep, or is love just as much about looks as within? Skin Deep is an excellent film about acceptance and not one to be missed.


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