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Aus meiner Haut / Skin Deep

Director: Alex Schaad (Germany). Year of Release: 2022

Leyla wakes up on the deck of a ferry. She has been laying her head on Tristan’s shoulder and apologises if she’s caused him any discomfort. But Tristan has a man bun and is carrying a guitar case, so he deserves any discomfort coming to him. Also he is called Tristan. As Tristan goes to try and find some coffee, Leyla moves to the front of the boat and stares across the sea as an island comes into view.

Getting off the boat, Leyla is greeted by the father of her old friend Stella, or rather by Stella who is living in her father’s body (you may have to take notes. This might get complicated). In a barely decipherable prologue, we have also seen Stella’s father watch her die of an aneurysm. But, because of Stuff, they have learned the art of body transfer, and Stella is now living in her father’s body, giving lectures about New Age bollocks on an idyllic island.

On the first evening, there is a meal outside, where the invited couples (some straight, some gay), each sit at their own table, while Stella/dad pulls out numbered balls from a tombola. Leyla and Tristan are paired with Fabienne and Mo, a couple of a similar age. Fabienne speaks with a light French accent and seems cool. Mo is macho and often boorish. Fabienne keeps having to shut him up to stop him saying anything more stupid than he’s already come out with.

So, here’s the deal. Stella/Stella’s dad will preside over a ceremony in which Leyla and Tristan will swap bodies with Fabienne and Mo. Maybe I’m too literally minded, maybe I just don’t buy in enough to science fiction concepts, but I couldn’t bring myself beyond asking innumerable questions: How exactly is this supposed to work? Why would anyone go through this? What exactly is changing here? Unfortunately, none of these questions is seriously addressed.

Before we go on, can I just say that I’m not against body swap films in principle. I retain a particular fondness for Face/Off, even though I’m not sure I’ve ever actually seen it. Nonetheless. it’s worth it for the clips of John Travolta and Nicolas Cage imitating each other’s nervous tics. Face/Off is great, because both actors are in on the joke, and it refuses to take itself remotely seriously. Aus meiner Haut thinks that it is being incredibly profound despite making no sense at all.

For the time being, let’s just accept that Tristan is now in Mo’s body, Mo in Tristan’s, that Leyla and Fabienne have made a similar swap, and that there’s nothing weird about this at all. We can see that the body swap has taken place as both Tristan/Mo and Leyla/Fabienne start to wear their hair down. Fabienne/Leyla starts to speak in a peculiar accent. It is just like Travolta and Cage in Face/Off, except without a shred of their humour or sense of self-awareness.

The different protagonists react differently to their different outer-bodily experiences. Leyla, who has never felt comfortable in her own body, feels a sense of liberation. Mo, who is in love with no-one more than himself, tries to snog Tristan, who is temporarily inhabiting his body. Tristan (like much of the audience) struggles to understand what the fucking point of it all is. After sleeping with Leyla/Fabienne because she looks like his true love, he asks to be returned to his own body.

This repels Leyla, who has been enjoying her life as someone else. Unable to swap with Fabienne, she changes bodies with Roman, who is both her ex, and the former lover of Stella’s father. At first Tristan finds it difficult to get amorous with a peroxide blond with tattoos and a beard. But he gradually starts to appreciate Roman/Leyla as being essentially the same person he was always in love with. All this culminates in a discreet sex scene between the two.

So far, so good. While I’m not claiming that what has happened so far has any logical sense whatever, at least it has a semblance of coherence. From here on, there will be some low-level plot spoilers, as it’s difficult to go into the fundamental problem with Aus meiner Haut without mentioning what happens. Well, not what happens, as nothing like this could happen outside the bullshit logic of this hokum film. Let’s try to keep a straight face and explain what we see next.

Leyla decides that she wants to remain in Roman’s body for ever, and to leave the island as Tristan and Roman/Leyla. This might lead you to think that the film is a metaphor addressing important philosophical and political points about gender fluidity and showing the problems experienced by people who discover they are trans and their partners. Except that it is dressed up in so many levels of impossible bullshit that we are diverted from any real debate.

May I make a crazy suggestion? If you want to make an interesting film about the difficulties experienced by transitioning people and their partners, you make at least one of your characters an actual trans person. Wrapping all this up in metaphors – and unbelievable metaphors at that – just add unnecessary mysticism. And this is before we get to the final plot spoiler. Leyla and Tristan decide that they will swap bodies – but this time with each other. What’s the problem with that?

Again, let us take one step back and look at what is happening. Tristan is unhappy with Leyla living in a man’s body, as he doesn’t want to kiss someone with a beard. So he decides to live in a woman’s body. This is wrong on so many levels, not least because it assumes that transitioning is an individual lifestyle choice you take to make your life easier, rather than a response to very real experiences.

Aus meiner Haut lacks the levity needed for the fun scenes, but is also much less clever than it thinks it is. It would like to make a serious comment on current important discussions. It really doesn’t.

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