Reviews: Review of “The Man Who Sold His Skin” by Kaouther Ben Hania

Awarded at the Venice Film Festival and nominated for the Oscars, this new film by the Tunisian director boldly and provocatively explores issues such as modern art, immigration and inequality.

The man who sold his skin (The man who sold his skin, Tunisia-France-Germany-Belgium-Sweden-Turkey/2020). Director and screenplay: Kaouther Ben Hania. With: Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Husam Chadat, Rupert Wynne-James, Adrienne Mei Irving, Najoua Zouheir, Yahya Mahayni, Saad Lostan, Nadim Cheikhrouha and Dea Liane. Music: Amin Bouhafa. Photography: Christophe Aoun. Distributor: Zeta Films. Duration: 104 minutes. Suitable for over 13s with reservations. Screens (first week): 10 (Cinepolis Recoleta, Cinemark Palermo, Atlas Patio Bullrich, Lorca, Multiplex Belgrano, Cabildo Multiplex, Showcase Belgrano, Showcase North, Showcase Córdoba and Cines del Centro de Rosario.).

“Do you want my soul? Sam asks visual artist Jeffrey Godefroy after telling him he sometimes feels like Mephistopheles. “No”, he replies, and finishes: “I want your back”. The dialogue takes place in the first minutes of The man who sold his skinand plants the seed around which will grow the ethical, moral and sentimental dilemmas of this boy who fled Syria and, a year later, earns his living on a chicken farm in Belgium.

Sam (Yahya Mahayni, winner of the best actor award in the Orizzonti section of the 2020 Venice Film Festival) met Jefrrey after entering an art gallery with the sole purpose of stealing food. Far from the expected challenges, the artist finds in his helpless gaze a motivation to choose him as the protagonist of his latest creation, catapulting him into the eye of the international media.

The thing is, the job basically consists of tattooing a visa to enter Europe on the back of this cowardly refugee, with the promise of receiving a large sum of money in return. Of course, for long months he will have to remain silent in a museum exposing his back, as if he were a David who wears, instead of a perfect body, a pass that would allow millions of people to flee the war.

Nominated for the Oscars for best international film last year, The man who sold his skin offers a story that oscillates between Sam’s growing internal conflicts, the repercussions of refugee associations and NGOs who see this work as an act of exploitation and the austere portrait of the modern art world, with its philanthropic-looking millionaires spending millions on hard-to-explain works (there is something of that in The placeby Ruben Östlund, also nominated in the international Oscar category).

The sometimes sinister look of contemporary art contrasts with the fragility of Sam, a man at the limit of his resistance, victim of a thousand internal contradictions and who, to make matters worse, moves to the same country where his girlfriend at the time of flee Syria. A slightly forced romantic plot, but which anchors the film in much warmer ground than the depersonalized coldness of art galleries. It’s not for nothing that the assistant on board (a blonde Monica Bellucci) looks like a robot intended only to carry out orders and control the bewildered Sam.

Although sometimes scattered throughout its dramatic core, The man who sold his skin unfolds a series of questions that resonate even after the credits: the value of life in an age of extreme commercialism, the brutal inequality (in terms of power and possibility) generated by the simple fact of being born in the wrong place in the right time less indicated and the limits of the human being in extreme situations. A silent extremism that is exposed live and live to whoever wants to see it in a museum.


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