Margins: A film about skin and punk life in the Italian provinces

I dislike 99% of punk and skinhead movies – even the better ones usually only make me cringe. There are exceptions: I thought the US punks in the very watchable Green Room were authentic (the boneheads perhaps less so) and Russia 88 was both clever and funny. But Romper Stomper? Sid and Nancy? Farming? Give me a break.

For once, though, I didn’t have any objections to the way skins and punks were depicted in Margins (original title: Margini), the new movie by Niccolò Falsetti that’s out in Italian cinemas now and also seems to be doing the rounds at international festivals. Granted, the characters in Margins aren’t representative of skinheads or punks in general – they portray punks and skins in Italy, or more specifically in the provinces, and this they do very convincingly. Having only lived in Italy since 2020, I might miss some nuances, but the characters on screen talked, looked and acted very much like people I’ve encountered in real life in these past two years. Italy has its share of small dead-end towns where nothing ever seems to be happening for the one or two resident skins. But they have a car and a sleeping bag, and you meet them at every single gig within a 200-mile radius. They’re the kids that Margini is about.

The story is set in Grosseto, a Toscanian town of some 80,000 souls, in 2008. Edoardo, Lacopo and Michele are three directionless lads who play in a band together. Michele is a skinhead, but the other two are punks – so by default, they’re a ‘street punk’ band rather than an Oi band. Fed up with playing the local toilet circuit – which in Grosseto means playing to an audience of two in the park – they try to organise a gig for the fictional Boston hardcore band The Defense (convincingly played by the Roman ‘NY’xHC combo Payback) in their hometown, with themselves as the opening act. The plot is so simple that I would give everything away if I told you more – despite my Italian still being ‘basic conversational’ rather than ‘fluent’, and even though the actors speak in thick regional accents, I got the gist of everything just fine.

The skinhead character benefits from the fact that a real skin from Grosseto, David Bardelli, acted as a kind of advisor to the filmmakers. It’s his actual flat and his casa popolare (council estate) that serve as the family home for the movie skinhead ‘Michele’ (Francesco Turbanti) – some familiar records and posters and a (presumably) original copy of Marshall’s Spirit of ’69 are proudly on display. Bardelli runs a clobber & record shop called Rudeness in his hometown, so he was able to kit out ‘Michele’ authentically and more than adequately. The character goes through quite a few costume changes, so we’re treated to a parade of Harringtons, Ben Shermans, 501s (rather than shrinkwrap movie-skinhead jeans), MA-1s (simply called bomber with a rolled r in Italian) and ace Levi’s trucker jackets. I wasn’t so fond of the flight jacket and hoodie combo, but yes, this is what people were wearing in a certain time period… never forget! Other than that, even top-button pedants won’t have much to complain about

Beyond the subcultural themes, Margini is the kind of bittersweet comedy about growing up (or failing to!) that the Italians were good at in the 90s. That is to say, it isn’t a great movie like the ones produced in the glory days of Italian cinema (1950s-80s), but an appealing little flick with a strong local flavour. In a time where 90% of movies on offer are either Hollywood rubbish or completely Americanised local imitations, that’s a welcome distinction.

I’m not sure why the film is set in 2008 because this really has no bearing on the story. The soundtrack, in any case, is a great compilation of classic Italian Oi and punk, ranging from Nabat singing about the “Italy of the exploited” (‘L’Italia degli sfruttati’) to Colonna Infame Skinhead telling you that punk is just a fashion (‘Punk e moda’). The revenue for the soundtrack CD will benefit Centro Storico Lebowski, a football club in Florence that is owned by its ultras (who are also seen in a concert scene in the film).

Something else: the film makes no attempts to justify or apologise for the fact that the main character is a skinhead. In one scene, a dim-witted nightclub owner calls him a fascio di merda (fascist piece of shit) when they fight, but thankfully, the filmmakers didn’t find it necessary to insert some discourse on how real skinheads aren’t racists because reggae comes from Jamaica or whatever. They just assume that we know the kid is not a fascist – i.e. they aren’t insulting the audience’s intelligence.

Margins is also the first film I’ve ever seen in an Italian cinema – my last visit to the moving pictures was still in London, before the pandemic hit. As we were leaving the cinema, I asked my girlfriend if the main character was just an actor or also a skinhead in real life. Now, that isn’t something I ever wondered about a movie skinhead before…      

Matt Crombieboy

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