In “No Skin,” the static grayness of three lives is jolted by a mentally unstable youth’s sentimental assault on his unsuspecting inamorata. Accomplished , warmly human second feature from Alessandro D’Alatri is a delicately played, melancholy but emotionally satisfying drama of behavioral dilemmas that oscillates subtly between light and dark moods. It should strike universal chords among international arthouse habitues.
Catalyst for the roller coaster of emotional upheaval is Saverio (Kim Rossi Stuart), an intelligent, acutely sensitive depressive from a well-heeled Roman family whose condition robs him of the protective outer shell that’s necessary to contain and control his feelings (hence film’s title).
The object of his affections is post office clerk Gina (Anna Galiena), who’s unaware of his existence. She lives with coarse but good-natured bus driver Riccardo (Massimo Ghini) and their infant son. The couple’s marriage plans have been blocked by Riccardo’s estranged wife’s refusal to divorce.
Mystified by the constant arrival of letters, poems, flowers and gifts declaring the love of the unknown Saverio, Gina hides the romantic overtures from Riccardo. When he does find the stash of letters, his resulting anger quickly gives way to trust in her fidelity.
This early section rigs a keen balance between inklings of dramatic developments waiting in the wings and gentle predicament comedy, especially when both Gina and Riccardo independently eye every man they pass as a candidate for the faceless paramour.
Saverio’s advances become increasingly bold, allowing him to betraced via his phone number. While Riccardo is torn between rage, concern, indulgent resignation and the worst possible psychopath scenarios, Gina is caught off guard and somewhat flattered by the directness of the boy’s amorous protestations.
The couple’s desire to help the misfit is fueled by Gina’s encounter with Saverio’s well-meaning but ill-equipped mother (Maria Grazia Grassini), and Riccardo’s with his doctor (Patrizia Piccinini).
Gina encourages his friendship, setting him up with work in a friend’s greenhouse. At the same time she begins to refuse his floral tributes and attempts to stop the flow of love letters. She acquiesces to a kiss, which immediately pushes his innocent attentions into the dimensions of a sexual threat, causing her to back off.
The film shifts gears, becoming almost unbearably intense when, subsequently, Saverio overwhelms Gina with anguished affection in a crowded supermarket.
Rossi Stuart, who until now has been mainly limited to playing one-dimensional pretty boys, is both convincing and moving in depicting his character’s mental and emotional obsession, which climbs to fever pitch, driving away Gina. Her disappearance literally drains the color from his life, with the film dissolving into increasingly grainy, monochrome footage and then into raw black-and-white.
To both Rossi Stuart’s and writer/director D’Alatri’s credit, Saverio is not merely another misunderstood, harmlessly eccentric teddy bear. Though clearly a sympathetic character from every angle, his unpredictable nature and unchanneled sexual needs give him a darker, almost menacing edge.
His poetic dialogue — an element that often shoves contempo Italian dramas into ludicrously romantic realms — is amply justified here. The glimmer of hope that illuminates his outcome feels like a well-gauged concession, allowing the film to close on not too downbeat a note, without schlepping gratuitously onto happy-ending turf.
Playing immensely likable but solidly everyday folks, Galiena and Ghini make grade-A contributions. Galiena’s growing international stature should get a further boost from her fine work here. Ghini’s role is undoubtedly the least showy, but perhaps the meatiest, and he brings it a good deal of depth and humor , moving way beyond his recent screen outings.
Direction is focused and unfussy, blemished only by an intrusive fantasy sequence in which Saverio becomes implanted in Riccardo’s mind, possibly a residual dollop of D’Alatri’s long experience making commercials.
Claudio Collepiccolo’s clean, agile camera work poses no undue distraction from what’s essentially a performance film. Editing is brisk and economical, though a mild sense of over-extension nags at some mid-section scenes.
The buoyantly folkloric East Euro sounds of Bulgarian-born composer Moni Olvadia’s dense and richly ironic score rep a distinct plus.