As a cinemagoer it can sometimes feel as though you are watching the same story over and over again. Even the most jaded cinephile, however, would have to concede that, no, they haven’t seen the one about the 17-year-old with a tight foreskin who practices intercourse on a shop-bought octopus. Adolescence is an awkward period in anyone’s life, but you can’t help but suspect that Short Skin’s protagonist is having a slightly harder time of it than most.
Born with phimosis, Eduardo (Matteo Creatini) experiences pain when masturbating and is therefore understandably reticent about sex. Unfortunately for him, however, it’s all anyone else seems able to speak about: best friend Arturo (Nicola Nocchi) is determined to lose his virginity before the end of the summer, Eduardo’s father (Michele Crestacci) is revealed to have been having an affair and even younger sister Olivia (Bianca Ceravolo) is determined the family dog should find a suitable mate. When childhood crush Bianca (Francesca Agostini) returns to Pisa for the holidays, Eduardo decides to finally find a solution to his lifelong problem.
The film is still funny in places, often thanks to the absurd situations Eduardo finds himself in (like finding his family have cooked said sex aid for dinner) and the inappropriate exclamations of his whip-smart younger sister (who is well aware of her brother’s troubles), but generally it prizes honesty over humour.
For the most part, Creatini makes for an engaging presence as the perennially preoccupied protagonist. He’s likeable, if not particularly luminous, and is completely unabashed in his performance as Edoardo, who we meet ass-first during an apparently routine penis inspection.
There’s something perfectly European about Chiarini’s treatment of the human body, not for the purposes of provocation or as some sort of puerile punch-line but as a simple matter of fact. Phimosis, like sex, is nothing to get worked up about, whereas it’s shame and insecurity that Edoardo’s doctor explicitly warns against. It’s refreshing to see male sexuality and puberty in general approached with such candour and sincerity, and for the female characters to be shown as much respect as the young men.
As commendable as Short Skin is, however, it’s not always as compelling as it could be. Edoardo’s sheepishness is of course only natural, but Chiarini doesn’t do enough to compensate during moments of dramatic stagnation or emotional sterility.
The supporting characters could be more charismatic, the pacing could be improved and the script could be sharper. It’s only 86 minutes long but Short Skin still isn’t quite short enough.