It would have been oh so very easy to play the central event of Short Skin for juvenile, American Pie-style laughs. Instead, Italian director Duccio Chiarini does almost the opposite in his first, smartly-judged feature: though at heart Short Skin is indeed a coming-of-age sex comedy, Mr. Chiarini and his co-writers apply a soft, understanding touch to turn it into a lovely, sensitive portrayal of a key summer in a young man's life.
Pisa teenager Eduardo's (Matteo Creatini) central problem is a very real, if rare, physical malformation known as phimosis - he was born with an overly short and thick foreskin that makes pleasure go hand in hand with pain. Though it can be surgically repaired, Edo has never really told anyone about it, so his sexual experience is almost non-existent, and since it's summer at the beach, he is constantly reminded of the importance of the coming of age ritual of losing one's virginity, especially by his best friend and school mate Arturo (Nicola Nocchi), a loudmouth horndog who is constantly ribbing him affectionately.
But, unlike in an American equivalent movie, Edoardo is no mal-adjusted, freak-of-the-playground kid. He has friends and a perfectly regular school and family life, with its push and pull sibling dynamics with a younger sister, and a lifelong crush on older neighbour Bianca (Francesca Agostini), the one girl he trusts to be able to understand his condition. But he is also reminded of the exacting price of a good time as his own parents go through a rocky patch after the mother finds out the father is having an affair on the side.
What is so striking about Short Skin is how pleasingly, refreshingly unpretentious it is, and how it avoids at every possible turn the obvious traps of the lowbrow the plot lays out. There is no boorishness involved, just an attentive observation of one boy's carnal education hand in hand with an emotional awakening, and a gentle lesson about dealing with those unruly things known as emotions when you're ill equipped to understand them. Short Skin is about a boy who overcomes the issues that bother him and grows from a surly teenager into a smiling man - it is, in short, about growing up, shot with a confidence belying its surprising status as a debut feature. It's a small, welcome surprise.
Cast Matteo Creatini, Francesca Agostini, Nicola Nocchi, Mariana Raschillà, Bianca Ceravolo, Michele Crestacci, Bianca Nappi
Director Duccio Chiarini; screenwriters Mr. Chiarini, Ottavia Madeddu, Marco Pettenello and Miroslav Mandic, from a story by Mr. Chiarini, Ms. Madeddu and Mr. Mandic; cinematographer Baris Ozbicer; composer Mark Andrew Hamilton; designer Ilaria Fallacara; costumes Ginevra de Carolis; editor Roberto di Tanna; producers Babak Jalali and Mr. Chiarini; production company La Règle du Jeu
screened July 1st 2015, Cinema City Alvalade 4, Lisbon, distributor press screening