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James White - Skin to Skin

“James White” - Josh Mond

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One of the first rules you learn at film school is that zooming in gives a scene greater intensity. The caveat is that overly tight compositions hinder the normal progress of a narrative, in which emotional peaks are supposed to alternate with linking scenes. With his debut film, Josh Mond has decided to do away with this hoary but generally effective rule of cinematic grammar.

He focuses his camera close on his leading man (an extraordinary Christopher Abbott) and never lets go. He uses editing less to connect scenes, more to draw breath between two long dives into the inner life of James White. The result is a film as off-balance, nervy and exuberant as its main character. A film that sticks to the skin of a young man, pursuing him incessantly and rendering us participants in the painful process of his return home to care for his sick mother.

We should say right away that watching James White is like living through an experience. Something that leaves a mark on the skin. The film is like a closely fought battle between the viewer’s gaze and the body on the screen. Its nerve centre is a moving scene, as long as a sleepless night, a scene made up of states of mind rather than actions: fear, inadequacy, courage, tiredness, euphoria, exhaustion.

A scene that wants to extend the feelings of the character to the viewer. It is here that the image of physical conflict – on which the film had constructed its whole first part – dissolves into that of a tender embrace, which is probably the best way to describe the mother-son relationship. 

Carlo Chatrian
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