The Man Who Sold His Skin15
According to Oscar Wilde, all art is quite useless. That may well be the case, but it doesn’t stop some of it from being truly expensive. Take Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi that sold for the record-breaking amount of $475 million at auction in 2017. And to be honest, it’s not even all that, looking much like a passport photo of its time.
And although art is subjective, it shouldn’t be forgotten that it’s also a lucrative industry, where fame and fortune could be just around the corner for the next big thing.
Kaouther Ben Hania’s latest feature is essentially a love film, but one that’s set within the art world, as one man finds himself having to go to great lengths for his freedom.
After expressing his love for his girlfriend Abeer (Dea Liane) quite publicly on a train, Sam (Yahya Mahayni) finds himself in serious trouble with the Syrian authorities, so much so that he has to flee the country.
He finds himself in Beirut as a refugee, alone and destitute. One of the ways he found of getting food was to gate crash art exhibitions, where nibbles and drinks could often be found for free. When he got found out however, he thought the gig was up, but he ends up being approached by one of the world’s most controversial artists, Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw).
Godefroi learns of Sam’s predicament and offers him a solution: to allow the artist to use his back as a canvas for a work of art. His reward would be a handsome payout, as well as getting the necessary paperwork for him to travel freely, allowing him to meet Abeer, who was forced to marry by her parents, in Belgium where she now lives.
Of course Sam would have commitments he would have to fulfil, by being a human exhibit in museums, showing off the art on his back, that of a Schengen visa. Buoyed by the knowledge that he would soon be reunited with Abeer, Sam agrees, but he’s not quite prepared for the price he has to pay for being a living piece of art.
The concept of humans used for art isn’t a new one, as Hania openly acknowledges in her film, as it’s based on Belgian contemporary artist Wim Delvoye’s living work Tim from 2006. Not only that, but Delvoye appears in the flesh himself, as it were, with a part in the film.
Of course the Tunisian director’s take on it is a human one. The art theme is just one used to support the love story, which is the real heart of the film. Everything Sam does is in the interest of getting that little bit closer to Abeer. And although Hania could have made a stronger statement on the 'what is art?' debate, her handling of it is remarkably subtle.
It may be the fact the director was working with a number of nationalities for the shoot, but there are times when the acting by some of the Europeans, namely De Bouw and Monica Bellucci, is definitely on the special side and can be fairly jarring. Thankfully Mahayni gives an excellent account of himself as the lovelorn Sam, who is seemingly prepared to do anything for love.
And although the film isn’t as satirical as it could have been, it still manages to hold a mirror up to the art world and reflect how utterly absurd it can be. And as a work of art itself, it’s thankfully far from useless.