In Skin of Man, Heart of Beast (1999) the cycle of familial violence is explored through the Pujol family, whose members converge at the family house. Middle brother Franky (Serge Riaboukine) is an alcoholic, violent tempered cop forced into taking leave after a drunken day on the job. Since his wife abandoned him, Franky's two daughters have lived with his mother and younger brother Alex, a good looking kid (late teens/early twenties) who is being lead into the nightclub/brothel business. And then there is the arrival of eldest brother Coco, who disappeared fifteen years prior and suddenly just appears, no luggage, no car, rotten teeth, an icy stare, and flimsy explanations for where he was in his absentee years. The family has been scarred by abuse and mental illness, most notably in the suicide of their father, and Coco's emergence becomes the catalyst to another meltdown
The title pretty bluntly conveys the films message, the idea of a family driven to almost animalistic impulses where the men cannot control their tempers and the women inevitably kowtow to this mistreatment. The films worldview is a primal one. Franky is the openly course one, drunkenly reveling and not afraid to throw his masculine weight around. Alex seems the most well-adjusted, yet his chosen friends and profession hint at a seedier side. Coco on the other hand, while appearing befuddled and silent, has eyes that clearly reveal he is unbalanced and perhaps simmering with a dangerous rage.
Director Helene Angel has crafted a very fine film that deosnt go overboard with its message and has a nice element of mystery by choosing to keep Coco's lost years an enigma. To go into too many details about the films final act would ruin it, suffice to say the women in the Pujol mens lives suffer, though there are hints that Franky's daughters may be more wizened and instinctually able to escape the families violence.
Skin of Man, Heart of Beast is a real slow burner. Except for a wonderfully grim dream sequence where Christelle tries to scare her younger sister with a prophetic dream about Coco, the first two thirds of the plotting is based on understated scenes- Francky, Coco, and Alex in drunken nights, Coco's mysterious nightmares, Christelles mistrust of her leder uncle, all scenes that patently lead to an unraveling It was a tone that reminded me of something like La Humanite, off kilter yet fairly innocuous on the surface but with a darkness boiling underneath. And, that darkness shockingly erupts for the final half hour of the film.
The DVD: Wellspring
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. An average presentation. The real quibbles come from a soft image that has a lean towards yellow/orange color details. This fact leads to some unhealthy flesh tones and dull looking grass and sky. The print is pretty clean with the only glaring instance of spots or dirt being some "hair in the gate" in one long shot. Still, it is only fair and the inescapable fact is that it could be better.
Sound: Two clean Dolby 2.0 Surround or 5.1 mixes, French language with English subtitles. Sound quality is good, dialogue is rendered clear and firmly centered. As far as fx, there are not many instances of the track making gymnastic leaps, but the subtle effects and instances of music are adequately mixed with proper punch ion the surround channels.
Extras: Chapter Selections— Trailer for the film plus trailers for Yi Yi, Under the Sand, Carnage, In My Skin, Les Destinees, Ran Masterworks Edition, and Russian Ark— Filmographies for Serge Riaboukine, Bernard Blancan, and Pascal Cervo.
Conclusion: Fans of foreign cinema, especially cinema with an understated metaphorical slant will find a rewarding film. The DVD transfer is less rewarding, iffy image and basic extras, but is still good enough to add to your DVD collection if the style of the film intrigues you.