In 2009, Stefano Cucchi was arrested in Rome on a minor, drug-related offence. One week later, he was found dead behind bars. On My Skin (Sulla Mia Pelle) tells the story of what happened. (Read our review here.)
It’s a controversial subject matter for an Italian film to tackle: the case continues in the country’s courts today, as the family seek justice and answers for his mysterious death. With Netflix snapping up the movie to distribute internationally, what began as a hot-button topic on home soil has become a powerful opportunity to broadcast the shocking events worldwide – kicking off with the Venice Film Festival, where the film opened the Orizzonti section of the event.
We sat down with the director, Alessio Cremonini and stars Alessandro Borghi and Jasmine Trinca to discuss adapting such harrowing subject matter for the screen.
The day before, Borghi was in tears at the film’s world premiere. What made him cry?
“I was enjoying the moment,” explains Borghi. “I turned my eyes and the moment I saw Ilaria [Cucchi, Stefano’s sister], I thought OK, and I felt really free. Because this is the real sense of this job, to tell stories, to have a relationship with people, to share with people something to think about. My tears were all really for Ilaria Cucchi.”
It’s a powerful story to tell. How did the decision to bring it to the screen come about?
“As we always say, everything started in Jasmine’s [living room] where we started thinking about telling the story,” says Borghi. “I myself got really scared at first, but we realized that we had the opportunity to tell a story that has been covered, but not really in the right light, so to speak. For me, that’s the reason for the film. Using something that we all love, cinema, to tell the story, and of course when Netflix came onboard, it became something more. It would cross borders, to 190 countries… and I believe that 70 per cent of the people who watch it will discover a story that they have never heard of.”
The film marks Allesio Cremonini’s second feature film. In the beginning, before Netflix was attached, how did he conceive of this as his next project? Was there ever any apprehension?
“I was always very impressed by the photograph of the corpse of Stefano Cucchi in Italian newspapers,” he says. “For some reason, it reminded me of the photo of the Holy Shroud, the Christ, and I started to think about the crucifixion and the two thieves – in a way, each of us is one of those two thieves, so to speak. And it really might sound very religious, but I was also even more impressed when I learned that the family members could not touch the body of Stefano when they finally saw him, they were not allowed to.”
That’s one tiny change that the film does introduce: the family in, in the movie, are allowed to touch Stefano’s body. That aside, Allesio says that the film was as objective and unbiased as possible, allowing audiences to make up their minds as to what happened – to tell Stefano’s story, rather than the political or legal aftermath of the death.
“I wanted to transfer this secular passion that I felt for this tragedy, because this is something that happened to one citizen, he was sacrificed, and that’s something that, as a believer, makes it more difficult to accept,” he continues. “The country is supposed to be democratic, and I do believe it is the duty of cinema to tell this story.”
For Allesandro, telling that story required a remarkable physical transformation.
“I weighed 81 kg and in the film I was 62 kg,” he exclaims. “That was hard. I can do it, I can do this again if I need to. But this was more of a technical problem: you just have to diet.”
The tougher challenge was dealing with the emotional transformation at the film’s heart.
“Emotionally, you really need to step back. You have to do it absolutely without judgement,” he adds. “You have to think: ‘Ok, I don’t want to tell a story against someone’. This is not the right process, this journey, because this is really a journey.”
Jasmine had an equally challenging task, because Illaria remains a key figure at the front of the family’s ongoing legal battle. How intimidating was it to take on that story?
“For me, it was not a matter of physical challenge, but it was an emotional burden, an emotional weight that I felt. And not because we were telling a story, but because we were telling this particular story and because of Ilaria, a living person who found herself very exposed in what was a very private tragedy that became a public one. I wanted to give back a lot of respect without betraying [her] in any way. But at the end of the day, during shooting, there was also a matter of switching off and switching on to private moments, because we were very involved in the making of the film, because we shared this responsibility for the statement that we were making.”
Sulla Mia Pelle is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.