Liam (Thibauld Dooms) is a troubled soul. His domestic life is a mess, as is his current dwelling, a youth facility for neglected and abused teens. Struggling to find a place of his own, Liam flits from fury to reflection in the hope of gaining some sense of clarity at this turbulent time. What follows is a journey of sorts, where Liam re-plays some of the more tramautic moments in his life in the hope of becoming a more rounded and developed person.
The journey, he quickly realises, is perilous. His memory, it is quickly established, is rife with violence; much of it sexual. Director Koen Mortier directs these flashbacks with nary a flourish nor a close-up, and merely lets the tension play out in front of the camera. Scarred by the experience, Liam ends up screaming at his guidance counsellor, reminding her that he cannot go home, and cannot stay in this place. The camera allows Liam to walk away, giving him the space to scream out his thoughts without intrusion. Dooms is an excellent lead, commanding the screen with a series of furrowed brows and miminalistic gestures. He’s talented, although he’s helped by the authenticity of the script, which frequently places him in the middle of a corrosive setpiece.
Mortier films it naturalistically, which adds to the reality of the pain. Although some of the violence is toned down from Geert Taghon’s book, there is enough to make an impact. In one almost tantric moment of pain, Liam recalls a whole horde of people fighting in his house, which ends with a person throwing him up the stairs. It’s clear that Liam has never experienced kindness in the one place he should be safest and most loved of all: his home. Like Dooms’ acting, it’s the smaller actions that hold the most impact, and the most affecting moment in the film comes when Liam realises the kindness that is being offered to him.
Cinemagoers could be forgiven for suffering from an aversion to uber-violence, which explains why much of the actions are implied rather than exhibited in full force. There is heartache; there is teeange fuelled angst; but Mortier coolly keeps everything loping along at an unhurried pace. This is a world where family drama is other people’s business. Put simply, this isn’t a Europe that discusses the ramifications of crime, but turns a blind eye to it.Most of the set-up is fairly holistic. There are no montages, no miraculous feats of technical ingenuity. What is on display is raw, and bolstered by nothing but nerves. As the film progresses, Liam grows stronger, aided no doubt by the memories that have put him on this solitary road to his Damascus.
But the malign absurdity of his personal life is reflected in his actions, which make him difficult to be around. His domestic life is undercut by a hope to reunite with his parents one day in the future; when they can be a family once more.Economically, the film has the good sense to wrap the story up in little more than an hour and a half.
There’s an urgency to the film that adds to the closing sense of nausea, and by the time the film closes, it ends on just the right note. What’s more, the film draws into the fractured male psyche, which is rare to see these days. There are shocks, but nothing anybody above the age of sixteen can’t handle. Mortier is particularly good on the sense of place: the wooden houses, grey-buildings, the rusted gates. Each of these tiny details makes for a compelling and deeply watchable whole.
Skunk just premiered at the International Youth Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.