‘Fremde haut‘ translated via Google tools produces ‘foreign skin’ in English (in the interview referenced below, the director suggests ‘a stranger’s skin’ which she sees as an eroticised concept). I think this refers to the sense of living inside someone else’s skin. If so, it’s possibly a better title for this film than Unveiled. The central character does certainly literally ‘unveil’ herself when her plane leaves Iranian airspace. We then follow her attempts to enter Germany and, more importantly, to stay there. Her first big mistake is to lie to the German authorities when she attempts to seek asylum. The truth is that she has had to flee Iran after an affair with a married woman. The only way she is able to avoid being sent back to Iran is to take on the identity of a young male Iranian student and then try to avoid contact with the authorities. Although physical veiling and unveiling occur in the film – in both the literal and metaphorical sense, there is also the sense of ‘living as somebody else’, again, both physically and metaphorically as asylume-seekers/migrants must seek to do.
The narrative ploy of a woman ‘passing’ as a boy/young man is of course a very traditional device. Many of the reviews of the film refer to Hilary Swank’s performance in Boys Don’t Cry (1999), but I was reminded of Suzy Amis in The Ballad of Little Jo (1993). I’m not sure why I made this connection, but it’s possibly because Fariba (played by German Iranian actor Jasmin Tabatabai) is an older and more confident /better educated (she is a translator) woman than the Hilary Swank character. Also, the sexual politics of the film do not come to the fore until later in the film.
The film received only a limited theatrical release in the UK and I rented the DVD, distributed by the lesbian and gay specialist distributor Millivres now owned by Peccadillo pictures. It says something about UK distribution that a film like this is distributed in this way. I don’t mean this as a slight on LBGT businesses, but there is an inference that the film doesn’t stand up for a wider audience, which I don’t think is the case at all. As a ‘lesbian drama’ the film offers a long build-up to a relationship and then has relatively little time to explore it. Reviewers tend to think that the resolution is unsatisfactory. I don’t agree, but I do think the film could have run longer. On the whole, I preferred the earlier scenes (which audiences seem to find less believable) than the later ones which seem much more like familiar genre scenes – Thelma and Louise again?
Director Angelina Maccarone appears to have a significant profile in Germany and the film is co-written by Maccarone and her cinematographer Judith Kaufmann. On this basis, it is a strong contender for screening on a course about women filmmakers.
The film is low budget and filmed in a recognisable social realist style that is very familiar to UK audiences. Overall it doesn’t have quite the same elements of humour and melodrama as a Ken Loach film. There are, however, some amusing moments such as the arrival of immigration officers at the food processing plant where Fariba is working. Fariba is forced to hide in a tank and be buried under piles of chopped cabbage by the woman who will later be her partner. I expected that the film would be more like the work of Pawel Pawlikowski, who despite living in the UK for many years, has for me an ‘East European eye’ which makes English landscapes look strange – as in his tale of a Russian asylum-seeker and her son in Last Resort (UK 2000). Fremde haut was filmed mainly in the farming areas around Stuttgart. I don’t know this region, but for UK audiences, it is suggestive of the flatlands of the Fens and other areas of arable farming where migrant labour is often employed for picking, sorting, processing food crops.
On a personal note, I enjoyed the central performance by Jasmin Tabatabai and I kept thinking that she looked like one of my favourite singers, Rosanne Cash. I then discovered that she is also a musician and that she once started a women’s country band named after the book/film Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (see her website for lots of other interesting connections to film and music projects). Director Maccarone also has musical talent and she writes and sings on the soundtrack. There is an interesting interview on AfterEllen. The more I find out about this film and its creative team and ‘talent’, the more interesting it becomes.