Liliana Cavani – La pelle aka The Skin [+Extras] (1981)


Based on the short stories of Curzio Malaparte, The Skin is Liliana Cavani s controversial look at the aftermath of the German occupation of Italy during WWII and the equally difficult results of life during the Allied liberation. Marcello Mastroianni stars as writer Malaparte, who chronicled the desperate measures taken by his countrymen in order to survive. Burt Lancaster co-stars as the liberating American General unable to understand the devastation around him.


In 1943, in Naples, Germans have just left the city when the Americans arrive, commanded by Gen. Mark Clark (Burt Lancaster), having the Italian Captain Curzio Malaparte (Marcello Mastroianni) as the liaison. The population is starving, with women and children prostituting themselves for food. Principessa Consuelo Caracciolo (Claudia Cardinale) is a noble Italian friend of Malaparte, and seems to be very adapted to all situations. Private Jimmy Wren (Ken Marshall) is the support of Captain Malaparte, and falls in love with a local girl. Honorific Colonel Deborah Wyatt (Alexandra King), an arrogant pilot and wife of an American Senator, comes to Naples to be promoted and get votes for her husband and the American president. Malaparte is assigned to show her the situation of the city. This movie is very strange, bizarre and violent. But although paradoxical, it is also fascinating. It shows a defeated people, needing to sell sons and daughters to survive. The last scene, when a tank passes over a local and Jimmy comes to apologize to Malaparte is fantastic. It shows the relation between winners and losers in a war. The cast has Burt Lancaster, Marcello Mastroianni and Claudia Cardinale, among others good actors and actresses. I like very much the work of Liliana Caviani, but this film certainly is not indicated for all audiences. My vote is seven.


This movie is based on the true memoirs of the main character (Curzio Malaparte) during his time when he acted as diplomatic liaison between the Allied forces and the Italian in the newly occupied Italy. The book is a collection of short stories depicting the collapse of the Italian society under Allied occupation. There is no story line between those short stories. The movie puts them in chronological order, but the reigning chaos and lack of moral message (the message is exactly the lack of morality) can confuse the spectator.

This is a very original war movie, in that the main theme is the not the war front. The Allied are not viewed from their own perspective, which is one of true liberators. Instead, the movie shows the Italian people courting the Allies as liberators in order to escape from starvation. The Allies themselves are caught in a trap where they know the Italian hospitality isn’t sincere, but are unable to understand why. They don’t realize that before them, the Germans were courted as liberators too, and that in this context of food shortage and general poverty, the only way the Italians have to secure their survival is to play that game.

Malaparte (played by Marcello Mastroiani) acts then as a translator, helping the Americans as a guide would help a tourist, by explaining in each situation why people are acting in this seemingly dishonorable way.

La Pelle (The Skin) would make more sense if compared to Malaparte’s twin book on the occupied Europe (Kaputt, or Broken to Pieces). In the latter, he portrays the Nazi way of oppressing through violence. In La Pelle, he shows how the Americans achieve a similar result through economic means, while refusing any responsibility. In Kaputt, Jewish women are made prostitutes by the German Army to escape death by the bullet; in La Pelle, Italian women become prostitutes for the American Army to escape death by starvation.

The Extras include:
At the Frontier of the Apocalypse (1080p; 24:22) looks at the film’s source stories and the Italian experience in World War II in general.

Malaparte, Great Reporter (1080p; 7:08) is an interesting interview with director Liliane Cavani.

The Individual and History (1080p; 7:44) is more from the Cavani interview, focusing on her thoughts about intimate stories within epochal historical events.

Dante Feretti Revisits Naples (1080p; 5:50) is another nice interview, this time with the film’s production designer.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Film Critics Wade Major and Andy Klein. Major and Klein are quickly becoming the go to guys for Cohen Film Collection commentaries, and they do another really interesting and insightful job here, going over the source material, Cavani’s filmography and various themes that are explored. Speaking of themes, music geeks like I am may not be able to forgive the pair for attributing the theme from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to The Skin’s composer Lalo Schifrin. That was Jerry Goldsmith (arranged and conducted by Hugo Montenegro), gents.

Subtitles:English (all)

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