“… could have used a lot more context.”
I always feel weird reviewing movies that are based on true stories becasue it feels like I am attacking the person instead of the art. But then I remember that it is art, and I shouldn’t feel bad for having an opinion about it, because if the filmmaker wanted to do the real person justice they should have just made a better movie. This is exactly the case with On My Skin, a movie that follows the story of Stefano Cucchi who died mysteriously after being taken into police custody in 2009.
My main issue, and really my only issue with On My Skin was how poorly it told the tragic story of Stefano Cucchi. The story itself exists as a gut-wrenching tale of police brutality, but the movie takes that story and contorts it making it difficult to follow and almost impossible to relate to. I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so let’s back up.
On My Skin starts off with a brief look at Stefano’s life. Like all dramas presented like On My Skin we see that he is a nice guy who has a family. This story takes a turn when he is stopped seemingly randomly by police, and caught with an amount of drugs that gives them reason to believe he was a dealer. This is where the story kind of falls apart for me.
On My Skin is a movie based around one singular incident: Stefano Cucchi, after being taken to the police station, is savagely beaten by officers. These wounds turn out to be fatal when later on they cause him to pass away. My issue here is that we don’t see the attack take place. I understand that it is better in film to ‘show, don’t tell’, but that doesn’t work all of the time. I had no idea who Stefano Cucchi was before this movie started, so when I saw these officers pull him into a side room and the movie abruptly cut to him with bruises on his face I assumed that they just smacked him around a little bit. I had no idea how severe the attack was becasue how could I?
On My Skin either assumes that you are so familiar with the story that you could pick up on this tremendous miscarriage of justice, or you hate the police so much that you immediately think that they would take a man and repeatedly kick him in the back until they break bones. I fell into neither of those categories which means I was thoroughly lost during most of this film.
And this brings me to my next point: On My Skin did a terrible job of explaining why Stefano was afraid to tell anyone. I still don’t even know to be honest. The entire movie there are breadcrumbs dropped every once in a while that allude to the fact that the police force, if crossed, will make your life hell; but how do I know how bad that would be? Give me an example, something tangible to latch on to so I understand what this character is going through.
I assumed that Stefano was just afraid of the one officer who attacked him, which isn’t a big leap to make considering the movie dwells on Stefano acting terrified whenever the officer is in frame. But that made me confused as to why he wouldn’t say anything even when that particular officer was nowhere in sight.
He spent the entire movie complaining and very obviously in an intense amount of pain, but as soon as he was in a safe environment being asked about his injuries he would play coy. This made the character seem bullheaded to an ignorant degree. He even refused to be taken to the hospital when he was being deprived of his epilepsy medication, which made it seem like it wasn’t actually medication for epilepsy he had been seen taking.
And what complicates this even more is when Stefano did choose to tell people about what actually happened. These moments were seemingly random. Why the prison guard but not the doctor? Why the nurse but not the paramedic? He was seemingly given so many chances to get the help he needed, but he refused to acknowledge those moments. And I doubt the character was actually that dumb, which brings me back to what a terrible job this movie did of conveying to me the situation.
I couldn’t relate to Stefano becasue after a certain point it was like he was doing this to himself. It was infuriating to watch, and if I had known him personally it would have made my blood boil to see him represented like this. It turned what could have been a powerful commentary on police brutality and the flaws of the justice system into a sob story wherein you stop caring about the subject forty minutes in.
Overall On My Skin was a disappointing movie that could have used a lot more context. It assumes that you share a brain with the director and have a firm grasp of what is going on off-screen as well as on. After ninety minutes of head-scratching, contrived drama it just kind of ends.
I give On My Skin a D