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Skin Review

SKIN, dir. Leo Behrens, American Film Institute (United States)

SKIN, by Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based cinematographer and director Leo Behrens is the 2023 Gold Medal Student Academy Award winner in the alternative/experimental category. Behrens began his career as a camera operator and director after graduating from Westerdals Film & TV in 2010 and within just a few years, he advanced to the role of cinematographer, making notable contributions to a wide range of projects in Norway, spanning documentaries, music videos, short films, TV series, and reality TV shows. In 2023, Behrens earned his cinematography degree from the American Film Institute Conservatory; SKIN is his graduation “visual essay.” Behrens is passionate about stories that showcase unique angles and provide fresh perspectives. He enjoys exploring any subject outside of the conventional topics, and challenging audiences with thought-provoking narratives that encourage questioning current social norms. He holds a special fondness for drama, thriller, magical realism, and science fiction. SKIN is an exploration of identity and self-discovery, using visual symbolism to depict a woman’s transformation into a man. A porcelain-faced figure looks into a mirror and sees not quite a reflection, but another self—stubbled and bare-chested, speckled with frost—looking back. He reaches through the mirror and pulls off the smooth mask-like skin, revealing the true person underneath.

The main (and only) character in SKIN is played beautifully by transmasculine actor Lio Mehiel, continuing their breakout year that began with the Sundance favorite MUTT, where Mehiel became the first trans actor to win the Special Jury Award for Best Acting at the Sundance Film Festival. Mehiel’s wordless performance here practically begs the viewer to lean in close, so as not to miss a single emotive gesture or look. Mehiel dominates every frame of SKIN and marks the arrival of an exciting new screen presence. Behrens has gathered a talented crew, and each technical aspect of SKIN works together immaculately in bringing together its otherworldly beauty. Despite its somewhat fantastic trappings, the production relied on practical sets, make-up, and in-camera effects. The beautifully baroque production design by Mojo Wen makes impeccable use of one elaborate set in an ostentatious state of decay. This set allows Behrens to make impeccable use of visual metaphor as so many of the initial views of our protagonist are distorted, through a frosty block of ice, or reflected in a wobbly funhouse mirror—visually echoing the confusion and excitement of discovering and coming to terms with identity and gender. A moody score by Mike Forst buoys every poignant moment of the film and effectively underlines each striking image. The make-up effect, created by Shy Elizabeth, that transforms Mehiel from woman to man is the crux of the entire visual metaphor of the film, and it is pulled off (so to speak) with seamless beauty. The cinematography, done by Behrens himself is a series of beautifully luminous images, with each majestic shot perfectly lit in orange and blue. Shot with an Arriflex 435 Xtreme on 200T 35mm film, SKIN is above all a showreel for the work of a talented cinematographer at the beginning of a long, promising career. Shortly after his graduation, Behrens was selected for the American Society of Cinematographers’ Vision Mentorship Program 2023-2024. The mission of the ASC Vision Committee is to promote and facilitate institutional change within the entertainment industry and ensure that cinematographers reflect the diverse population of the world. Being a transgender filmmaker, Behrens is passionate about exploring LGBTQ themes across different genres, but his creative pursuits span a wide array of storytelling genres. SKIN will make its US premiere at AFI Fest and will screen on October 26th in the Live Action Short 1 block.

Review by: Joshua Hunt



The short end of the stick: The inferior part, the worse side of an unequal deal

When it comes to cinema and the Oscars it always feels like short films and getting the short end of the stick. Lack of coverage, lack of predictions from experts and an afterthought in the conversation. With this site we hope to change that, highlighting shorts that stick with you, predictions, and news on what is happening in the world of shorts. 

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