Director: Alessio Cremonini
Cast: Jasmine Trinca, Alessandro Borghi, Paolo D Bovani
Watch On My Skin online in the UK: Netflix UK
In 2009, 172 people died in Italian prisons. Sulla Mia Pelle (On My Skin) tells the story of one of them – a story that’s still going on today. The death of Stefano Cucchi remains full of mystery and controversy; arrested by the Carabinieri (Italian police) for a minor drugs offence, the young man died behind bars a week later. Was it the savage beating given to him by the cops, leaving the young man with a litany of injuries, both visible and unseen? The answer to that question has already been debated multiple times in court, and will soon be going through the courts once more. Sulla Mia Pelle succeeds by not addressing the political or legal implications at all; it takes a step back from any complex debates, and dives right into the harrowing emotions of a true tragedy.
Alessandro Borghi plays Stefano, the son of an influential real estate surveyor who is stopped by the cops as he hangs out with a friend. Before we see that happen, though, we’ve already spent enough time with Stefano to know he’s not an angel. He‘s struggled with drugs before – much to the detriment of his family – and even though he’s holding down a job, he’s not the most stable figure you’ll meet.
It’s a decision that ensures the film never veers into hagiography, cementing it’s documentary-like tone; thanks to supporting turns from Jasmine Trinca, in particular, as his sister, Ilaria, the Cucchi family relationships feel lived-in, and, for better or worse, loved-in. By refusing to whitewash Stefano, the film also places us firmly on his side – when the police ask for his address and he says he doesn’t have a fixed home right now, we know he’s telling the truth.
What starts off slowly steadily spirals into a horrific decline of physical health, as we see Stefano brutally assaulted and almost unrecognisably transformed. The make-up, the weight loss, and the physical performance are all impressive, but Borghi’s remarkable achievement is to bare Stefano’s soul to the world, even as he withdraws further into himself. One minute, he’s demanding help and his epilepsy medicine; the next, he’s hiding under a blanket and insisting everything’s fine to a doctor.
After an impressive turn in both Suburra the film and series, the role is a deserved showcase for Borghi’s committed talents, and director Alessio Cremonini subtly moves out of the way to give him the space to deliver – one tiny touch (literally) gives the family physical closure with regards to Stefano’s corpse, but Cremonini’s intimate, sincere lensing otherwise disappears behind the story. The result is Italy’s answer to Fruitvale Station, an understated drama that allows us to make our own judgement on what happened – and, with Netflix’s support, makes sure an important story of abused power and police brutality is heard on a global stage.
Sulla Mia Pelle is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.