Published Sep 04, 2008Feeling more like an ethnographic biography than anything particularly cinematic, Skin tells an interesting story in a discerning, yet detached and glossed-over manner, which does little to make the film exciting or memorable.
While the story itself should theoretically make for an emotional and engaging experience, the television movie vibe and a tendency to rush through and oversimplify several serious life events that span 25-to-30 years in the protagonists life leave an overall feeling of expositional hollowness.
Based on a true story, Skin follows the life of Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo), a black girl born of two white Afrikaner parents, Abraham and Sannie (Sam Neill and Alice Krige), from her childhood through to her adult life. As a child, her parents try to integrate Sandra into a South African educational system that doesnt allow the inclusion of black children. Given that her birth certificate indicated a "white status, she was able to attend school initially but was later classified as "coloured and rejected.
The film then follows Abrahams struggle to reinstate his daughters "white certification while Sandra continues to feel like an outcast from her visually different peers. This all inevitably leads to rebellion, further suffering and damaged relationships.
Factual aspects of the film, such as tests that were done to identify a person of colour (examining ones posterior, putting a pencil in their hair and asking them to jump up and down), succeed in peeking interest and reaction but seem to be presented for shock only, adding an emotional element to a narrative that is unable to spark that involvement sincerely.
This is only exacerbated by an uneven performance from the lead, Sophie Okonedo, which, by no fault of her own, goes from awkward and shy (as conveyed through hunched shoulders and "gee-willickers glances) to confident and assured without enough time spent on the actual development that would naturally be required.
Its a shame that Skin is only passable, given the significance and power of the source material. But for most, passable will suffice, as a documentary (which would have been more appropriate) likely would not appeal to a wider audience. (Elysian)