A little known British film from 1995, Madagascar Skin is basically a two handed character study of two dissimilar men looking for companionship. The film begins with Harry (John Hannah), heading off into the night with his car after being rejected yet again in a gay night club. He's a painfully shy young man with a large birthmark on his face in the shape of Madagascar which causes him to feel very alienated and depressed. He drives to the coast and spends the night in his car with his belongings. In the morning he comes across Flint (Bernard Hill), nearly dead on the beach after a run in with what we can only assume are gangsters. Harry saves him, and the two men develop a curious friendship. They're poles apart in character and affectations with Flint being an obtuse, boisterous, overtly heterosexual ne'er-do-well; and Harry being a quiet, intelligent, bookish homosexual. They squat in a nearby cottage and Harry develops feelings of love for the craggy older man, but could his feelings be anything other than unrequited? That's the whole film really. It's a very leisurely paced love story with lyrical imagery. Unfortunately these visuals, usually static compositions, often tend to clog up the narrative flow. The film just crawls along. There's a frustrating sense of inertia in this film caused by it's pretentiousness. Newbie bombards us with po-faced symbolism and ham-fisted metaphors that even Derek Jarman would find grating. There are moments of wittiness in the script but they're submerged amongst all the tedious non-events that are meant to be meaningful. When Harry is in his grubby bed-sit he starts picking at the wallpaper, peeling away layer after layer. It goes on and on. Wow, how symbolic! This kind of repetitive 'arty' imagery really gets boring. For every quirky image such as a myriad of shoes mysteriously laid out on a beach, there are several stinkers like the visuals of the nightclub scene - surely the most cheap looking and poorly realised urban nightclub scene ever committed to celluloid. Newbie also has a habit of showing people staring right at camera, yet not from anyone's POV, just 'for effect'. Yeah, yeah. - it's meant to symbolise paranoia, or discomfort or something. I get the drift, but it's just overused and annoying. Strangely, for a gay love story/fantasy funded by Channel Four the film is surprisingly gentle in some ways (no over the top 'Queer as Folk' explicit scenes here) but it still has a few non sexual scenes that might raise eyebrows, perhaps because they don't really fit into the film and only keep at arm's length the characters that we should be empathising with. Flint, for instance, eats a dead mouse, slowly chewing on the head and body, crunching on the bones, before slobbering down the tail; and similarly, eats glass bulbs and spiders. Why? For a laugh apparently. Harry's habit of eating all his food with his hands is also rather repulsive (and he's meant to be cultured!) Watching him eating a runny fried egg with his fingers is not for those with queasy stomachs, that's for sure. Ugliness abounds down on the beach as well, with numerous images of dead fish and decaying matter, and a sex toy abandoned in the seaweed (!) looks just like a rotting, severed penis. Harry shudders and stamps it under foot. So for an hour and a half we have two characters doing, well, nothing much. Hill and Hannah give decent performances but they're just too hampered with a stilted script and a director obsessed with showing how artistic he is. Shame, with a better script, more humour and less posturing, this could have been a little gem, something along the lines of a gay 'Withnail and I'.
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