'Short Skin': Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
The desire to lose his virginity puts this drama's protagonist in a tight spot

London-schooled Italian director Duccio Chiarini's first feature stars Matteo Creatini as a teenager whose condition "down there" makes his hormonal desires a problem

A hatrack teenager’s first shot at sex is complicated not only by inexperience but also by the fact he suffers from phimosis, or tight foreskin, in the awkwardly if conspicuously titled Short Skin. The somewhat unusual affliction -- at least for a movie -- of the main protagonist aside, this fiction feature debut from Italian director Duccio Chiarini is otherwise a pretty straightforward coming-of-age story that’s well-observed and manages to be intimate and explicit without becoming exploitative. Set over one leisurely summer, this Berlinale Generation title, which first premiered as a Biennale College project in Venice, should travel to more festivals, though theatrically, the film’s casual approach to (fictional) underage nudity might be a problem in some territories.

It’s a bit of a shock to discover no less than four people, including the director, are credited for this wispy and laidback film’s screenplay, with many of the scenes and dialogue feeling casually improvised and the story not showing much in the way originality besides the choice of what obstacle to place between a young man and his first sexual experience. That said, Chiarini, a London Film School alumnus, does a deft job of suggesting something of the inner turmoil of his protagonist, despite the fact that Edoardo, or Edo (Matteo Creatini), is a quiet, almost morose 17-year-old who’s not exactly an open book.

Edo’s forced to spend the holidays at the family’s seaside home near Pisa with his bickering parents (Bianca Nappi, Michele Crestacci) who might not survive the summer as a couple, and his wise-cracking but Plain Jane little sister, Olivia (Bianca Ceravolo). Though Edo’s relationship with them gives viewers a sense of the protagonist’s provincial, lower-middle-class background, none of his family members are particularly well-developed, with his father and mother mere parental outlines and Olivia an annoying little brat who likes to swear a lot and pretend she’s wise beyond her years in that quirky-cute U.S. indie way (the fact her name’s the Italian version of Abigail Breslin’s character in Little Miss Sunshine doesn’t quite feel like a coincidence).

Thankfully there are enough excuses to get out of the house, including Edo’s childhood buddy, Arturo (Nicola Nocchi), who’s main fixation has become how to get into a girl’s -- really, any girl’s -- pants, and the imminent arrival of Bianca (Francesca Agostini), the granddaughter of a neighbor on whom Edo’s always had a bit of crush. Arturo’s adolescent obsession might prove contagious and the newfound freedom of Bianca, who just broke up with her rugby-player boyfriend, also seems to suggest new possibilities previously unavailable to Edo, a beanpole gentiluomo if ever there was one. These relationships with his peers are both more interesting and more convincingly drawn, with Arturo and Bianca essentially decent people who became friends with the equally decent Edo not necessarily because they’re the greatest match but simply because they grew up around each other, at least over years and years of shared holiday periods. Their shared sense of affection thus comes from a shared past more than anything in their personalities, which allows especially the Arturo-Edoardo relationship to develop several amusing hiccups.

 

Edo’s embarrassing medical problem is really the only thing that stands in the way of losing his virginity with either Bianca or the rather forward girl who sings in a local band, Elisabetta (Miriana Raschilla, with a pink-hued asymmetrical bob), and his attempts to deal with it provide the otherwise rather leisurely holiday narrative with some necessary shots of energy. Some of his attempts are humorous -- notably when Arturo pushes Edo to use an unexpected windfall to hire a prostitute or when an octopus is put on American Pie duty -- though the soberly assembled film’s finally more of a drama with occasional flashes of humor than a laugh-out-loud comedy, with Chiarini always grounding the instances of mirth in a young man’s recognizable and somewhat desperate attempts to deal with both the unknown quantity that is sex and a related and problematic health problem all by himself.

The director and newcomer Creatini, who gives a restrained but finally touching performance, approach Edo’s physical difficulties and search for a solution with a refreshing and casual sincerity, neither shying away from the required nudity nor drooling all over it (a Larry Clark joint this is not). Indeed, throughout, the film’s visual style seems inspired by the Edo's character, an observant but withdrawn teenager, with the precise framing of Turkish cinematographer Baris Ozbicer (Honey, Yozgat Blues) maintaining a sense of dignity and respect that befits this sensitive gentiluomo in the making.

Below-the-line credits are fine except for the guitar-driven indie rock from Canadian collective Woodpigeon on the soundtrack, which feels like another suggestion that Chiarini might have watched one Sundance title too many.

Production companies: La Regle du Jeu, Asmara Films

Cast: Matteo Creatini, Francesca Agostini, Nicola Nocchi, Miriana Raschilla, Bianca Ceravolo, Bianca Nappi, Michele Crestacci, Francesco Acquaroli, Crisula Stafida

Director: Duccio Chiarini

Screenplay: Duccio Chiarini, Ottavia Madeddu, Marco Pettenello, Miroslav Mandic

Executive producers: Ginevra Elkann, Francesca Zanza

Director of photography: Baris Ozbicer

Production designer: Ilaria Fallacara

Costume designer: Ginevra De Carolis

Editor: Roberto Di Tanna

Music: Woodpigeon

Casting: Marco Teti, Francesca Borromeo

Sales: Films Boutique

No rating, 83 minutes

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