One Kiss ****
Starring: Rimau Ritzberger Grillo, Valentina Romani, Leonardo Pizzagli
Director: Ivan Cotroneo
Coming of age dramas are ten-a-penny nowadays, with LGBT versions forming a whole genre by themselves, but every now and then someone gets the formula completely right. On paper, One Kiss seems like the story of yet another teenage love triangle, but really, this is more an examination of how damaging homophobia can actually be. As a result, the film uses high school as a metaphor for their whole community, where homophobia has sunk right down to the bedrock.
Lorenzo (Grillo) has just moved into his new foster home. From the moment he arrives at his new school, he shies away from the homophobic bullying he receives and befriends the school "loser", Blu (Romani). Vilified as a slut for her antics the previous summer, she has been depressed for some time, but finally begins to see reasons to be happy with Lorenzo. Together, they befriend the school's basketball star, Antonio, who has become reclusive since the death of his brother two years before. Together, the three of them rebel against the school and its students, before their feelings begin to get complicated toward each other.
The three leads are vividly drawn and compelling characters. Lorenzo steals every scene he's in, with his optimistic vim and dogged adoration of Lady Gaga. Effortlessly likeable, his innocent fervour rubs off on everyone around him. At first, Blu seems like the countless angst-ridden teenage girls we've seen before, but there is sheer joy hiding behind the depression that she just cannot understand. Most complex of all, however, is Antonio. With all the makings of the most popular kid in school, he battles with his competing affections for sport and for his newfound friends. But this isn't a High School Musical quandary; it's a conflict that cuts right to his core, that threatens to undermine who he fundamentally is.
The majority of One Kiss is a feel-good stomper, as the kids' rebellion manifests itself through dance routines, Burn Book-esque YouTube videos and general nuisance-making mischief. Homophobia is the explicit force they are rebelling against, shielding themselves from the taunts and discrimination they experience at the hands of both students and teachers alike. But what they cannot combat - nor even understand - is the internalised homophobia that has come as a result of residual prejudice that is ingrained in the town's culture.
Their parents are likeable enough, but it's when Lorenzo's teacher blames his abuse on his wearing nail polish to school that the real cause of the homophobia is seen. Until the culture of the school changes, the bullying will never end. And despite the film's fizzing lightness, it seems almost inevitable that it could only end in tragedy.
Despite its marketing, this is not the story of sexual awakening or a film to objectify its subjects. Instead, this is a complex study of teenagehood and the consequences of prejudice. A surprisingly delightful Italian indie gem.