Madagascar Skin

Ladymol's Review

I really enjoyed this film. I didnít really understand it, but it was compelling to watch. As soon as it was finished I went to the DVDs extras, hoping to find some enlightenment. There was a synopsis, but I got the impression the guy who wrote it didnít really get what was happening either.

Harry (John Hannah) is a man who thinks he is disfigured by a red birthmark on his face. I say he thinks deliberately because to be honest, itís more like a faint red burn than a true birthmark. It actually enhances the interest of Hannahís face, but he doesnít see it this way. Being gay, he mixes in a world of the young and beautiful and his encounters are painful, unsatisfactory gropings in the dark. Despairing that he will ever be touched in a loving way, he takes off, apparently driving aimlessly until he goes as far as he can go: ending up literally on a beach.

One night, in a storm, his car is covered by thick seaweed and becomes camouflaged. He seems to decide to live in it, living off soup and water he fetches back from a village some distance away.

His solitary existence is disturbed one day by three men, masked by stockings, who are rampaging across the beach. On investigation, he discovers a man buried up to his neck in the sand and left to die with a bucket over his head. I found this particularly disturbing, especially Harryís initial reaction to finding him. Instead of immediately digging him up, he goes back to his lair to heat up some soup, only allowing his guilt to provoke him to action when the tide begins to come in. Itís quite horrifying to think of such a death, and it was the first real puzzle of the film for me (after wondering why Harry didnít wear makeup to cover the mark!).

Flint (the rescued man) turns out to be a rough and ready oddball, squatting illegally in a remote croft. He invites Harry to stay.

One of the reasons I was reluctant to give this film a go was that I knew it stared Bernard Hill. Heís a great actor, but I couldnít really see him (didnít want to) doing gay with John Hannah. After way too much Brian Kinney, itís very hard to switch back to reality and see flab and blue-white English skin, bad teeth and hairiness. However, Iím very glad I overcame my prejudices. Hill is excellent as the eccentric Flint. He postures, doing weird, unmentionable things (oh, go on then, Iíll mention one: he eats a dead mouse which heís fished out of the front of his boxer shorts) to get Harry to laugh. And this posturing is really sexy. Harry certainly finds it so. For Harry is not big on the laughs. Heís introverted to the point of being almost suicidal with the need to be loved. It doesnít help that he almost instantly falls for this bigger than life character Flint. Itís only when they have a fight and Harry goes back to his car on the beach, does Flint come to realise that he has similar feelings for Harry. He invites him back for dinner and after soup offers him a far more filling dessert.

I loved the sex scene that followed. Itís highly charged and full of skin and touch, without either man compromising himself on screen. The cinematography is amazing: lightning illuminating them, wind billowing a sheet above them as they explore.

I recommend giving this one a go. Itís quite unique. Despite leaving many unanswered questions, and having no real conclusion (you can pretty much make up your own), itís a satisfying watch with excellent performances from the two leads.

Cerisaye's Review

Harry is afraid heíll die without ever being touched. Filled with longing he goes to a gay bar, and after downing a pint for courage inserts himself into a sexy 3-way in the backroom. Then the lights go up and Harry flees like a frightened rabbit. Not because heís conflicted about being gay. Harry has a port wine birthmark covering one side of his face, in the shape of Madagascar. Terrified of rejection he doesnít give the gay couple in the bar a chance to react. That the blemish isnít exactly disfiguring isnít the point: Harry, played by sexy Scot John Hannah, is beautiful but doesnít know it, is never going to believe it because awkward and emotionally crippled, he doesnít allow anyone to get close. Starved of intimacy, he rejects a world he fears will reject him.

After going home to his grim bedsit where he achieves a desperate release, Harry takes off in his car for the beach, an isolated spot to lick his wounds away from the cruel world. Maybe he intends to kill himself, for he burns his possessions, marks of identity like a birth certificate and photos. Living in the seaweed-draped car, he sinks further into misanthropic misery.

Then a strange thing happens. Harry finds a head buried in the sand, attached to a man very much alive. After dithering a bit Harry decides to rescue this man left to drown by what looked like bank robbers- well they had nylon stockings over their heads.

Flint (played by Bernard Hill) is a grizzled old sea dog type complete with tattoos. He finds them both a place to stay, a deserted but picturesque old cottage, which he proceeds to make cosy by pilfering stuff from a nearby house. Theyíre a most unlikely pair (rather like Anthony Sher and Jason Flemyng in Alive & Kicking). Harry is dour and shy whereas playful Flint is a coarse force of nature who embraces life and everything it sends his way, with an array of parlour tricks including electric crisps (broken lightbulb pieces) and pulling a mouse from his boxers and eating it. Sometimes however opposites do attract. Harry fancies himself in love but is scared to admit to his companion he likes fellows. It doesnít matter anyway because Flint is horny. Thereís a rather nice sex scene, brief but sensual.

Itís not about gay or straight, but a connection between two people, one needy the other with a lot to give. Their onscreen chemistry makes you believe their characters really do find love under the most unlikely circumstances. Flint makes Harry laugh and it transforms him. Slowly he begins to see the world differently, from a hostile place of nasty slimy things and happy couples he wishes would die in a plane crash to something filled with possibilities, like finding a job and happiness.

Itís slow, with no dialogue at all until nearly 20 minutes in. It has a European feel, very visual, lots of imagery and beautifully shot interiors with a painterly quality. Some Ew moments involving mice, insects and other creepy crawlies, and a rather gruesome find amidst the flotsam & jetsam. I rather liked it. Hannah & Hill are a joy to watch, a surprisingly sweet romance in the transgressive vein. Recommended.