Starring: Alessandro Borghi, Jasmine Trinca, Massimiliano Tortora
Director: Alessio Cremonini
Running Time: 100 mins
On My Skin (Sulla mia pelle) is an Italian film about the true story of Stefano Cucchi, a man arrested for drug possession, but who died seven days later in prison, with no explanation given.
Telling a rather gritty story about the rights of prisoners and abuse of power in the justice system, On My Skin is a very, very heavy-going film, and one that will definitely make you think twice about what goes on inside prison. With an emotionally draining performance from Alessandro Borghi, and very frank directing from Alessio Cremonini, the film proves an intense watch, although it doesn’t quite do enough to keep you entirely glued to the screen right the way through.
First off, the film’s first act is excellent, as it combines a strong air of mystery and ambiguity surrounding the arrest of Stefano Cucchi with the hard and gritty atmosphere that befits a story of rather intense depth. While his arrest is nothing out of the ordinary, the film really gets going as we see how he is treated upon entering custody despite having only committed a legally minor infraction, and soon the film really begins to show what can happen when nobody is looking.
Director Alessio Cremonini does a fantastic job at bringing that story to light as the film goes on, as while we see that Cucchi isn’t the world’s most saintly man, Cremonini uses a powerfully frank and unrelenting display of brutality to show that nobody deserves to be treated as effectively subhuman, as Cucchi is thrown to and fro despite suffering from epilepsy, and now from heavy injuries after a night in the police station.
Furthermore, the use of make-up in the film is one of the most subtle yet powerful elements of all, as we see Cucchi transformed into a ghost of a man after being beaten to within an inch of his life, with his face growing more and more bruised as two huge purple circles surround his eyes, further grabbing your attention as a viewer that his treatment was much worse than what typical police brutality may often sound like.
As the story goes on, Cucchi’s condition deteriorates rapidly, so calling into question the theme of what rights prisoners deserve, as we see the man moaning and screaming in his cell as he receives barely enough help for his injuries, until it’s all too late.
Now, this is where the film starts to struggle. While that central theme is a fascinating one, and one that will definitely draw your sympathy and attention, the story does start to run out of depth as we move through the second and third acts.
Watching Cucchi struggling for his life while receiving little attention from guards and carers is incredibly brutal, however it is something that plays out over the course of a good forty or fifty minutes, with little further development to the story other than that main theme. While the film does pick up again in its last fifteen minutes through a pointed criticism of the bureaucracy and mismanagement that further diminishes the human rights of prisoners, that middle period doesn’t bring enough development or new drama to the table, making it unfortunately duller than should have been the case.
Of course, On My Skin tells a true story, and as a result it’s a film that’s clearly made with a lot of passion, which is what makes it such a riveting watch at many points throughout, however it’s not quite a perfectly tuned film to thoroughly engross you at every moment, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5 overall.