The Man Who Sold His Skin (الرجل الذي باع ظهره)

The Man Who Sold His Skin

His own body turned into a living work of art and promptly exhibited in a museum, Sam, a Syrian refugee, will soon realize to have sold away more than just his skin.

The final film to become available to watch out of this year’s ‘Best International Feature Film’ Oscar nominees is ‘The Man Who Sold His Skin’, an internationally produced entrant that is representing Tunisia but takes place in Syria, Lebanon and Brussels, as we follow the life of refugee Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni). It’s directed by Kaouther Ben Hania and the film is a bold exploration of the clash between different cultures and in particular, the lottery of birth and the impact that has on the lives of every single person on the planet. Much of it takes place in the art world (the film was inspired by contemporary Belgian artist Wim Delvoye’s living work ‘Tim’), and the heightened reality of that space is the perfect setting for the story Ben Hania is trying to tell.

The film starts in Raqqa where two lovers are separated by the Syrian Civil War; Abeer (Dea Liane) is forced to marry a richer man by her family and move to Brussels, whereas Sam is forced to seek refuge in nearby Lebanon. Desperate to get to Abeer, Sam agrees to take part in an art exhibit for a controversial artist on the proviso it will provide him with the money and paperwork necessary to enter Brussels. The catch is that the exhibit involves Sam receiving a large tattoo on his back of a Schengen Visa, turning him into a literal and metaphorical representation of the life he leads and is trying to escape.

The Man Who Sold His Skin’ is a film that juggles so many themes and makes many different points throughout its runtime, some of which land better than others, but it’s very watchable throughout and in Sam, we have a protagonist you really feel and root for. It reminded me of ‘The Square’, another Oscar nominee in this category that took place in the art world, in how it uses the inherent ridiculousness and contradictions of the art world to explore real life themes and the challenges affecting real people. Kaouther Ben Hania’s film is a genre mash up of a love story, art world satire, and an exploration of political and moral themes and it’s directed with skill, even as the barbs it lands may not land as pointedly as the director is aiming for.

Rating: 3/5

Directed By: Kaouther Ben Hania

Starring: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim and Wim Delvoye

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