The Skin Blu-ray review
It’s towards the end of World War II and the Allies have liberated Italy from the German occupation. Life remains difficult for the Italians, who struggle day to day. Even though the Germans have left, the country still sees themselves as invaded, this time by Americans. In an early scene, Italian troops gather and acknowledge the sense of shame shared by their people.
The Americans mark a significant presence in Naples, aiding in relief and making time to scout prostitutes. But they’re far from being viewed as heroes, as locals need them solely as means of survival. Central figures in the film include General Mark Clark (Burt Lancaster, just a year after his Oscar-nominated turn in Louis Malle’s ATLANTIC CITY), who can be seen as something of a mascot, and Curzio Malaparte (Marcello Mastroianni, A SPECIAL DAY), a writer and correspondent who serves as a liaison between the Italians and the Americans.
THE SKIN (LA PELLE in its native Italian) is far from shy about what it wants to say, just as the source work—Malaparte’s 1949 book of the same name—and its author hid very little, if anything, in his firsthand account. It approaches the ideas directly and sees no reason for any subtleties.
The film clearly has an anti-American mindset and portrays them at times as disgusted with their surroundings. Such a view is made explicit in the subplot involving a renowned pilot (Alexandra King, in her only credited performance) campaigning for her senator husband. She is quick to be repulsed by what she sees, describing the situations and people as “degenerate” and suggesting it could rub off on her if she stays too long. Such a subplot is unnecessary to the story (which otherwise focuses on General Clark and Malaparte) and seems to exist primarily to hammer in the biased point.
Director Liliana Cavani (1974’s THE NIGHT PORTER) is adamant about making said point, but her methods—which come off more exploitative than purposeful and occasionally bloat the movie—are capable of turning many viewers away. This is one reason a number of cinephiles admire her, but it’s also why the rest find her work—at least at times—vile.
One thing that can be said of THE SKIN is that, more than 30 years after its release, it’s a work that resonates today, in a time when American troops are still sent to foreign countries to do good for the people and remain there for years on end even when a portion of the citizens want them gone. It shows (although with an overbearing vision) a country viewing themselves as heroes and the natives viewing them as unwelcome nuisances.
The supporting cast includes Claudia Cardinale (who that year starred alongside Franco Nero, Anthony Quinn and Martin Balsam in THE SALAMANDER), Ken Marshall (who would go on to play Colwyn in 1983’s cult sci-fi movie KRULL) and Carlo Giuffrè (Maurizio Ponzi’s SON CONTENTO). THE SKIN screened in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981 (the year Andrzej Wajda’s CZLOWIEK Z ZELAZA became the first Polish film to win the Palme d’Or).
Video: 1.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Details are nice, colors are accurate and contrast is strong.
Audio: Italian 2.0 LPCM. Subtitles in English. Dialogue is clear and the score plays well.
Feature-length audio commentary by film critics Wade Major and Andy Klein: Major and Klein offer a strong commentary in which they explore the themes of the film, director Liliana Cavani’s body of work and more.
At the Frontier of the Apocalypse (24:22): Director Cavani reflects on THE SKIN and its production.
Malaparte, Great Reporter (7:08): Cavani discusses Malaparte, portrayed in the film by Marcello Mastroianni.
The Individual and History (7:44): Cavani touches on some of the themes that intrigued her.
Dante Feretti Revisits Naples (5:50): Production designer Feretti (who won Academy Awards for THE AVIATOR, SWEENEY TODD and HUGO) discusses working with Cavani and why THE SKIN is “complicated.”
Original French Release Trailer
2014 Re-Release Trailer