Salt on our Skin

(aka Desire, Andrew Birkin, France/Germany/Canada, 1992)


I never thought I would see a film in which Greta Scacchi, as a French intellectual, discusses the writings of Roland Barthes with German arthouse icon Hanns Zischler. But this great day has indeed come with the international co-production Salt on our Skin.

Adapted from Benoîte Groult's novel, it is an intense account of the turbulent, thirty-year affair between feminist historian George (Scacchi) and Scottish fisherman Gavin (Vincent D'Onofrio).

Director and co-writer Andrew Birkin (brother of Jane) specialises in sophisticated romances, having previously made a fine adaptation of Stefan Zweig's Burning Secret (1988) with Klaus Maria Brandauer.

He skilfully explores the conventions of the genre: the dialectic of banal reality and rapturous transcendence; the relationship of personal life to passing world events; the painful clash of the lovers' different value systems. Like Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993), the film makes expressive use of an extensive voice-over narration and sumptuous locations right across the globe.

Birkin makes us believe, as Louis Malle did in Damage (1992), in this obsessive amour fou that pays no heed to the more mundane, everyday obligations of work and family. Although the earnest philosophising of the characters and the generally solemn tone of events will draw derisive guffaws from some viewers, I found it an irresistibly beguiling, often beautifully directed film. Highly recommended.

© Adrian Martin May 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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