Artistic satire meets the drama of immigration in “The Man Who Sold His Skin” by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania. Ben Hania picks up a real-life chapter from the annals of the art world, when Belgian artist Wim Delvoye tattooed a man’s back and then sold it as art. What sounds like a recipe for trouble – what about the human who is the web? – This is exactly where the film lives, telling an edifying tale of exploitation and commodification.
Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) is imprisoned after declaring his love for Abeer (Dea Liane) on a train in Syria. Escaping to Lebanon, he crosses paths with a high-flying artist, Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), who offers legal passage to Europe in exchange for Sam’s conscription in a daring project. This involves tattooing Sam’s back with a Schengen visa and showing it in museums. (Jeffrey’s fashion partner is Monica Bellucci.)
Sam continues to Skype with Abeer, who is now stuck in a parent-approved marriage to a diplomat, and their thin romantic thread draws the story through Sam’s sometimes awkward trials as a museum exhibit and inmate of a luxurious hotel. His sense of being a perpetual stranger, valued for everything but his personality, expresses the dehumanizing elements of some immigrant experiences.
The glossy film takes Sam out of the gallery through Hollywood-grade somersaults in the storytelling (one of them is so violent it feels a little tasteless). But the story obviously struck a chord, winning an Oscar nomination (like “The Square” before it) in the international feature film category.
The man who sold his skin
Unclassified. Duration: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters. Please review the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies in theaters.