Ta Peau Si Lisse (A Skin So Soft)
A remarkable Montreal-based ensemble parade themselves in this bewitching, often wince-inducing documentary from Denis Côté. There are four bodybuilders, a personal trainer and a strongman wrestler. The participants offer very few coherent utterances – mainly gruffs, chomps, snorts, snores and some of the most astonishing breathing patterns you are likely to hear. Côté has evidently edited these elements in such a way, but the film convincingly reveals the pervasive silent stoicism of this breed of 20th-century male, a cocktail wrought in an atmosphere of pseudoscience, self-help doctrines, inspirational quotes and fragile masculinity.
Each of the six lives is examined individually. The camera starts on the largest of the odd-looking cadre, detailing his precise beauty regimen, marvelling at his long, black, cultivated beard, ogling his frighteningly bulbous muscles. The physique is extreme, the vanity particular. A younger man – a slightly less inflated body acolyte – drinks down his food, hyperventilates, and viewers will worry that his head might pop. A truck tugger and tyre flipper spends a panicked few days almost mute before a local entertainment wrestling bout. His wife faces a brick wall. Elsewhere, a young bodybuilder accosts his somewhat bemused girlfriend for her lack of commitment to a weights routine: “No one aims for third”. You have sympathy with the women who make sacrifices for and support these men, whose ears are permanently plugged and whose eyes barely deviate from straight ahead. A mystic-cum-fitness coach – sporting some curious labyrinth marks on his head – provides the longest stretches of dialogue, earnestly whispering garbled diagnoses and training tips to several clients, all of whom return blank faces and supreme concentration. Finally, the cheeriest muscle man merely bemoans the lopsided nature of his muscle build. All front, apparently.
Where the film succeeds most is by bringing these men into each other’s company – they finally head off to a woodland retreat together. It is a sweet, hilariously homoerotic encounter, all peacock displays of muscle definition combined with envious and admiring glances at one another’s physique. Watching these bumbling leviathans chase sheep across a field is a moment of unique joy unlikely to be repeated. Côté manages the portraits of these sympathetic, vulnerable men in a manner that subordinates sneering (as there is lot to be sceptical of in this world) in favour of sincere fascination. An admirable piece of work.
Ta Peau Si Lisse (A Skin So Soft) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2017 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the official BFI website here.