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PENISSIMO

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by Gabi Schweiger

grade: 7

Penissimo is a cheerful and light-hearted, but also particularly meaningful documentary. Interviews, photographs of artworks, but also excerpts from the first erotic films made back in the silent era compose a lively and colourful fresco of “one of the two halves of the sky”.

Discovering the men’s world

A decidedly unconventional filmmaker who is not afraid to deal with topics considered “taboo”, versatile Gabi Schweiger. After winning the Franz Grabner Award 2020 for her television documentary Viva la Vulva (2019), in fact, the Steyr-based filmmaker has now turned her attention to the men’s universe, making another interesting TV documentary in 2020: Penissimo, produced by Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion. In Penissimo, therefore, the director takes us on a long journey between past and present and around the world, to discover the male reproductive organ and how it is considered and observed within the society in which we live, also according to the traditions and customs that have been handed down to us.

A series of characters are interviewed one after the other. Each of them simply answers with a simple sentence depending on the question they are asked. “What is your relationship with your penis?”, “What does your penis mean to you?”, “What do you think of so-called alpha men?”. A light and ironic tone is the first thing that stands out. Yet, in Penissimo, the topics are also quite serious and topical. In fact, on a long journey through the centuries, we see how, since ancient times, the male reproductive organ has been depicted as a good omen with regard to fertility.

At the same time, we also see how its meaning has changed since the origins of pornography (born at the time of the Italian Renaissance), whether in terms of the first depictions of sexual acts, or even in terms of the birth of photography or of the early erotic films. At the same time, a series of journalists, sociologists and psychologists help us to better understand how all this impacts on the collective imagination. And at this point, numerous other issues, such as circumcision practices or even feminism, are brought up.

Gabi Schweiger shows us all this in a cheerful and light-hearted, but also particularly meaningful documentary. Interviews, photographs of artworks depicting huge, colourful penises, but also excerpts from the earliest erotic films made back in the silent era make up in Penissimo a lively and colourful fresco of “one of the two halves of the sky”. A direct directorial approach together with agile and dynamic editing are the right way to stage this. The director not only wants to entertain the audience, but also to make them reflect on certain behaviours and beliefs. Penissimo, therefore, similarly to Viva la Vulva, turned out to be an extremely intelligent and essential documentary, in order to clear dangerous clichés and to avoid that an “omertous” attitude regarding certain topics could lead to potentially “dangerous” behaviour. An overall well-made work that, despite being made for television, also boasts its own, marked personality.

Original title: Penissimo
Directed by: Gabi Schweiger
Country/year: Austria / 2020
Running time: 52’
Genre: documentary
Screenplay: Michael Seeber
Cinematography: Sebastian Arlamovsky
Produced by: Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion, Arte, ORF

Info: the page of Penissimo on iMDb; the page of Penissimo on the website of the Nikolaus Geyrhalter Filmproduktion; the website of Gabi Schweiger