The Man Who Sold His Skin
When Sam Ali (newcomer Yahya Mahayni) is forced to flee his home in Syria after being falsely arrested, he must leave his life and family behind to cross the border into Lebanon. Not long after, the love of his life (Dea Liane) has married and moved to Europe. Sam, now a refugee, has grown bitter towards life; but he believes his luck is about to change when he agrees to have his back tattooed by a contemporary artist (Koen De Bouw). The opportunity was supposed to offer him his freedom and the chance to go to Europe to be reunited with his love once again. However, Sam finds that he’s treated less like a human than he was as a refugee.
Writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania confronts viewers with difficult ethical dilemmas in The Man Who Sold His Skin. By turning Sam into a living work of art, the artist intends to make a statement about a refugee being considered more valuable as a commodity than a human being. It’s a powerful idea which takes inspiration from a real-life Belgian artist who tattooed the back of a man named Tim, who was contractually obliged to sit still in a gallery every year. Here, Hania uses this premise to criticise the moral dubiousness of such an act, with the added context of humanitarian issues.
There are numerous layers to this central idea that make the concept fascinating to dissect. There’s an organisation which protests the exhibit as exploiting refugees; there are the artist and curators, who only value Sam for his skin; and there are the museum patrons and collectors, who see him as an object to be gazed at and bought. On top of this, video calls to his family are reminders of the hardships faced back home. However, the filmmaker doesn’t explore any of these concepts in enough depth for her film to make the impact it should. Instead, a lacklustre romance plotline and prolonged sequences featuring classical music for the sake of appearances give this feature an ill-fitting air of pretentiousness.
The Man Who Sold His Skin contains an ambitious, sophisticated and intellectually stimulating premise which is carried by a strong cast. There’s a lot going on in the script, however the director doesn’t seem to have that much to say about each of the ideas he puts forward.
The Man Who Sold His Skin is released in select cinemas on 24th September 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Man Who Sold His Skin here: