Dutch shorts filmmaker Esther Rots makes her feature debut with a well-wrought entry in too-close-for-comfort cinema. First-person frayed, Can Go Through Skin accompanies assault victim Marieke through recovery in a rundown country house. Nicolas Rapold spoke to Rots prior to her film’s North American premiere.
What does the title mean? It sounds like a detergent warning.
I quite like the ominous side of it. It means multiple things—the difference between how you feel and how you look, maybe even how you can fool yourself. And skin, it’s so easy to put a knife through, and your life is gone. It’s not a lot of protection, really.
How did you balance fidelity to Marieke’s point of view, and orienting the viewer?
For me, it was much more important to stay as honest and close to Marieke as I could, than to take care of the audience.
Besides her neighbor, her main company is her laptop.
If I went to the countryside, it would be the first thing I would take care of. I would search on the Internet to see how other people deal with this. I don’t see myself going to a shrink, but stuff on the Internet goes really deep, and it’s totally anonymous at the same time.
What sort of preparation did you do with the actress, Rifka Lodeizen?
Mostly [it was] about how Marieke was before all of this happened: the proud, independent, funny girl. It was very important to work chronologically so we could really mold [the character] as she was trying to pick up her life.
The stripped-down house constantly reflects Marieke’s emotions.
Sometimes the house is like a shell where she feels safe—and the next day, it’s terrible. It has the same complexity as a character.
The film can be jarring, yet it’s sewn together so well. What was your editing process like?
I was still writing scenes while I was editing. The handheld, the getting closer to Rifka—that worked really well. And because we saw it was working, we grew confident in taking it as far as we could. So the whole thing grew together like a tree. “
Can Go Through Skin” screens April 3 and April 4