Thicker Skin Than A Rhino

in 27th Schlingel – International Film Festival for Children and Young Audience, Chemnitz

by Hamed Soleimanzadeh

Rhinos have thick skin and are huge animals. The texture of their skin plays an important role in their appearance. A patient, resistant, and fighting person is described as having thicker skin than a rhino in some languages. This phrase can be used to describe Damian (Vito Cortini Brea), the hero of Rhino (Rinoceronte, 2021), directed by Arturo Castro Godoy. It is Damian’s character to desire solitude and isolation in the face of others. As the film opens, a messy basement symbolizes Damian’s troubled unconscious. There are a lot of repressed desires in his unconscious world, as we can see in some shots. In the second scene of the film, Damian throws a number of empty glass bottles into a stadium breaking them. He pulls a piece of wood along the iron fences to make an annoying noise. Throughout the film’s opening shots, which are without dialogue, we get a glimpse into Damian’s daily life; it is tense and unstable.

The toys he has placed next to his bed are his only companions. Despite the presence of his parents or guardians, we only hear a voice in the background. In a dreamy shot, we see a railroad enclosed by trees. Damian’s wake-up scene represents a new adventure in his life, one he faces as soon as he wakes up. The police and officers have come to his house to take him to a place where neglected or homeless children are cared for. As soon as Damian pauses in front of the house, we realise he is trapped in a dark world. He is later assigned a social worker named Leandro (Diego Cremonesi). Leandro tries to build a friendly relationship with Damian by bringing up different topics, but most of the time he is met with silence and indifference.

Damian’s entry into the orphanage marks a turning point in the storyline. Leandro repeatedly denies Damian’s requests to return home. Damian maintains a distance from other children and house officials in order to express his dissatisfaction with his new living situation. We see Damian’s large scar on his back when he undresses to take a shower in a brilliant scene. A scar like this is a reminder of his painful past. Due to the scar, the back of his body has developed wrinkled skin, and here we see the first visual connection between the title of the film and the main character.

The audience learns a little about Damian’s past and family during his conversation with another kid at home. Damian escapes from the homeless children’s home one night and returns to his own house. He sets his bed on fire after taking some toys. It gives the impression that he has become disconnected from his family as he attempts to burn down his room in a symbolic fashion. Eventually, Leandro and Damian go to a remote part of the city and break glass bottles together. A scar similar to the one on Damian’s back is visible on Leandro’s shoulder and arm in this same scene. As a narrative element, the scar on the skin connects the various parts of the story at the end and makes them coherent.

The title of the film is a reference to a famous French play by Eugène Ionesco called Rhinoceros (1958). Berenger, the main character in Ionesco’s play, is the only one who does not succumb to this collective transformation of all the inhabitants of a small town in France into rhinoceroses. In another reading of the story, it can be said that Damian, who is reminiscent of Leandro’s childhood, even though part of his skin has become like a rhinoceros, with the final decision and return to the orphanage, refuses to enter a world where humans have turned into rhinoceros. In his actions at the end of the film, he appears to repeat the words of Berenger, the hero of Ionesco’s play: “I am the last human and I will remain human until the end”.

The technical aspects of Rhino are impressive. As a result of the film’s limited dialogue and emphasis on visual aesthetics, the images are more readable than seen. There is a creative design to the geometric frames of the film. Details play an important role in every frame. There is a good balance between foreground and background, and the color texture contributes greatly to convey the central message. A brilliant performance is given by Contini Brea. Due to his focus on reaction rather than action, his facial physics and the angle of his gaze become increasingly important in conveying emotion. As well, the locations and set design serve the story’s narrative line perfectly. Locations play an important role in conveying the story space. There is a specific vision method for film direction. The director has designed innovative and impressive mise-en-scenes with a full understanding of his narrative space. Damian is usually framed somewhere in the frame, which represents his loneliness in most of the shots.

In conclusion, Rhino is a story that describes the concept of life, friendship, and failure for teenagers and shows them how to get up after every failure and continue on. Imagine a life with rhino skin and a human heart!

Hamed Soleimanzadeh
Edited by Amber Wilkinson