Review: The Man Who Sold His Skin

What is art?

the manwho sold his skinThe Man Who Sold His Skin is one of the Oscar nominees for Best International Feature Film. It was written and directed by Kaouther Ben Hania and represented Tunisia. It is mostly in Arabic, though some of the dialogue is in English and French, with subtitles.

Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) is a young Syrian, deeply in love with Abeer (Dea Liane). A misinterpreted utterance in a public venue gets him into trouble and he ends up as a refugee in Lebanon. He has a chance encounter with a hot, trendy artist Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), thanks to Godefroi’s aide Soraya (Monica Bellucci).

Jeffrey wants to tattoo Sam’s back and then tour with his “creation.”. Sam agrees because he would be able to travel to Europe and optimally find Abeer.

This is fascinating stuff. Who owns the artwork? How does one make a profit as an artist? And what consideration does the “art”, who is, after all, a human being, receive? Can you “sell” the art? How would THAT work? The conversations with the exhibition halls and the insurance agents are heady musings.

Can you DO that?

Moreover, is the relationship a form of exploitation, or even slavery, of a refugee or a rare opportunity? Is Sam even seen as a person or something less than?

The way art has been recently traded in cryptocurrencies makes the notion of this film far less absurd than it might have been only a few years earlier. And the ending, I swear, I’ve seen a variation of in recent months, but it works. And I won’t tell you where because I hate to provide spoilers.

I was most fond of The Man Who Sold His Skin. The Rotten Tomatoes critics were 94% positive, although the audiences were only 74% thumbs up. John Powers of NPR says, “It weaves together satire and humane political awareness to create an original fable about art, privilege, freedom, and identity.”

All of the Best International Feature Film nominees, except the winner, Another Round, were on Hulu.

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