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[whitespace] Under the Skin
Holding Action: Samantha Morton clings to Stuart Townsend for solace in 'Under the Skin.'

Grief leads to wild sex in Carine Adler's 'Under the Skin'

By Richard von Busack

YOU DON'T REALLY get under the skin of the heroine in Under the Skin, the new British success d'estime. On the other hand, you do see a lot of it. Two characters comment on what a good body Iris (Samantha Morton) has; I don't need to third the opinion to suggest that Morton's lithe, nude frame can't have hurt the film's chances. How new is it, this suggestion that a grieving person is prone to wild, anonymous sex? After all, Somerset Maugham's novel Cakes and Ale told the story of a woman leaving her husband and going out all night with a stranger to get away from the room where her baby had died.

Upon the sudden death of her mother (Rita Tushingham, first-rate in a small part), Iris splits up with her kind but dull boyfriend and rents a small apartment. She starts swanning around in her mother's fur coat and old wig, picking up strange men. Iris describes what's being done to her when she gets them home in a flat, hard voice to undercut the prurience. One of Iris' trysts is even intercut with the cremation of her mother.

Ilona Sekacz's score, full of dissonant Saturnian chimes and keyboards, makes the sex seem all the more alienating. I don't think that director/writer Carine Adler sees the fun side of going to pieces, and her taste for the cozier life isn't masked by the way she portrays Iris' sister, Rose (Claire Rushbrook, who played the furious daughter in Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies and is impressive here as well).

They say there's no such thing as a little pregnant; Rose is a lot pregnant, complaining bitterly about being fat, surrounding herself with a menagerie of stuffed animals and always bringing up the subject of the cream she rubs on her stretch marks. Her aggravating domesticity is what Iris is fleeing, but Adler overstates the case: Rose is thesis, Iris is antithesis, and both are heading for synthesis: a bonding, easy healing and a live performance by Rose of Gilbert O'Sullivan's mawkish "Alone Again (Naturally)." Despite some gritty touches, Under the Skin purveys a kind of princess fantasy. Iris is drowning, she's penetrated, she's flayed by the touch of strange hands--and no one will save her.

Under the Skin (unrated; 85 min.), directed and written by Carine Adler, photographed by Barry Ackroyd and starring Samantha Morton and Claire Rushbrook.

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of Metro.

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