Sharing some DNA with The Believer, a Ryan Gosling-starrer from a decade ago that portrayed a Jewish anti-Semite, Skin presents a teenage boy who is a bundle of contradictions – surly, disaffected, Jewish, violent, furious, neo-Nazi. In many ways, despite the film being set over three decades ago, his plight is a very modern one – a teenager on the brink of manhood, beset by fear, frustration and non-descript rage, which ultimately manifests itself in (self) destructive ways. Frankie remains manifestly uncomfortable with the more racist behaviour of his new cohorts, yet willingly emblazons a Swastika tattoo on his chest, despite his father having survived a Nazi death camp. He is a boy who loves his mother and (initially at least) longs to connect with his father, but his father is full of pain and sorrow, hamstrung by his own history and inability to express his strong feelings for his son.
Despite a brief running time, Skin manages to convey the transition by Frankie astutely. He does not go from mild-mannered kid to knife-wielding thug in the blink of an eye, nor is the transformation complete at any point. Despite his inner anger, he never wholly lines up with the ideological standpoint of his new companions. Unlike, for example, American History X, where Derek Vinyard unconvincingly makes a quick about-turn in prison through one meaningful friendship, Frankie remains the engaging bundle of contradictions that mark him out as a fully-fleshed character and enable him to retain our interest and sympathies, despite his more unpleasant actions.
Although his friends remain for the most part one or two dimensional, Frankie’s parents are presented as fully-formed characters, whose difficulties and personalities are well-conveyed. The parallel narrative, flitting between prison and Frankie’s journey there is coherent and interesting and it remains pleasingly difficult to predict whether Frankie’s ultimate fate will be good or ill.
For the most part, the subtitling of this Dutch-spoken film is well set out and idiomatic and although it is clearly a film operating on a modest budget, it does not get ideas above its station, playing to the strengths of its script, lead actors and tight narrative and delivering a thought-provoking and believable tale. Although the trailer below seems at times to be playing on cliches, the central performance by de Hoog remains a sublte, intelligent and affecting one. Well worth a look.