German helmer Alex Schaad takes on the body-swap trope in Venice Critics’ Week title “Skin Deep,” produced by Walker + Worm Film in co-production with Bayerischer Rundfunk and Donndorffilm.
Beta Cinema, which handles the sales, has shared its trailer exclusively with Variety ahead of the film’s world premiere at the Italian fest.
The intimate, character-driven story sees a young couple – played by “And Tomorrow the Entire World” actor Mala Emde and Jonas Dassler – deciding to visit a remote island, hoping they might be able to solve their problems in a place that literally allows you to be someone else. But Schaad, who co-wrote the script with his brother Dimitrij, wasn’t trying to deliver another “Freaky Friday,” eschewing easy laughs for a much more philosophical approach.
“I wanted to make a movie about changes in a relationship, the struggle of being and staying together. That was the core of it all,” he says.
“Then we started to wonder how the body you are in influences the person you are. If it suddenly changes, how does your mind react to it?”
Finding the right tone was essential, he states, especially when it came to the acting.
“I think the whole body-swap idea is rooted in comedy and there were moments when we went too far. It felt exaggerated and over the top. We had to dial it down, focus on language and small gestures instead. The way these characters talk and the way they listen to each other,” he adds.
“[On ‘Skin Deep’] we were limited when it comes to the visuals or the production design, so most of what happens is actually transmitted through acting. I always encourage improvisation because actors, if they are good, can be so much smarter than you. When they tell me they would like to react in a certain way, there is always some truth in it.”
As his protagonists continue to change through the story, so does their gender, leading to some interesting discoveries. Also on the sexual and emotional front.
“There is this beautiful love scene between two male actors, but my goal was to get to the point when it just wouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if it’s two men or two women, or something else. It’s about people being in love, getting rid of everything that used to define them and sharing this intimate moment,” states Schaad.
“I wanted to take a look under the surface, sure, but I am also a straight, cis, white male. I am limited in what I can say about fluid identities. The main focus was always on this couple and their inability to communicate. Their lack of trust, basically. If they had a real conversation, they wouldn’t need all the body-swapping!”
Currently developing a new project, again with his brother, Schaad is hoping to continue combining personal stories with unusual, fantastical elements.
“We really love magical realism. It allows you to see all these personal, intimate conflicts in a whole different light,” he says. Admitting that despite “Skin Deep’s” other-worldly concept, he was never interested in making a traditional science fiction film.
“I didn’t even know what this film’s genre was when we first started shooting,” he notes.
“In ‘Skin Deep,’ the formal aspect of people exchanging bodies is ultimately just a tool. I didn’t want to show all the technology behind it, although we went there for a while when we were still writing the script. Only to realise that I was more interested in its spiritual and psychological ramifications.”
“Frankly, I would love to do it myself, even just out of curiosity. How would it change my personality?,” he wonders.
“I am happy with who I am, but it must be such a great experience to feel different all of a sudden, to look at the world with somebody else’s eyes. Even if it’s just for one day.”