[THE SKIN screens Saturday May 23rd at 5:00 pm at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
Set in 1943 Naples as American forces are driving the last of the Nazis out of Italy, THE SKIN shows the lengths regular people will go to in order to survive. For the most part this is shown from the perspective of Curzio Malaparte (Marcello Mastroianni), a pragmatist doing his best to use his position as liaison to the American forces, led by General Mark Clark (Burt Lancaster), to help his own people. When he's not doing that, Malaparte tries to find time to romance Princess Consuelo Caracciolo (Claudia Cardinale). American soldier Jimmy Wren (Ken Marshall) acts as Malaparte's assistant and enjoy the company of Italian women, including a possible real romance with Maria Concetta (Lilliana Tari). There's also an Americna Senator's wife and ace pilot, Deborah Wyatt (Alexandra King), who wants to see firsthand how operations are going. Since General Clark doesn't want her getting in his way, he pawns her off on Malaparte.
The Americans, although naïve and well intentioned, become occupiers as much as the Germans were. Unaccustomed to seeing what this level of loss and devastation really looks like, they are appalled by much of what they see, while simultaneously being drawn to readily available (for a price) sex. The Italians, on the other hand, accept their depredations in an almost matter of fact manner. They've been through this kind of thing before, and while they certainly don't like it, they understand what they have to do to survive. Were some of these people fascists themselves during the war? Possibly, but it hardly seems to matter when those who suffer the most, in particular women and children, had little choice in what side of the war they were on.
Based on the memoirs of the real life Malaparte, there isn't much of a narrative to the film; it's basically just a series of vignettes held loosely together by the characters. The various scenes mix comedy and tragedy, romance and horror, often all at once. Among the more shocking moments are meal in which the main course is a human hand, and a flesh market where mothers sell their children for sex because it's the only way they can get money to feed them. Somewhat lighter moments, as when a bunch of kids strip a tank that some soldiers are trying to sell in minutes, hardly balance the scales, nor should they. 3 out of 4 stars.