Today marks easily the earlies that I’ve watched all of the international Oscar nominated films (with respect to the date of the ceremony). Much of that is because of this project increasing the raw number of films I’ve seen since shortlists came out. That combined with the continued pandemic keeping me from seeing anything in the theaters made accomplishing the goal much easier this year.
The Man Who Sold His Skin (2021, Dir. Kaouther Ben Hania)
This was a bit of an odd one. The Man Who Sold His Skin is an extremely literal title. The film is about a Syrian refugee Sam (Yahya Mahayni) who sells his back as a canvas to a famous painter in exchange for a new life in Europe. Upon signing a contract, he is given a full back tattoo and is required to sit silently in museums and private shows for hours on end.
The extreme literalness of the title betrays the flaw in The Man Who Sold His Skin. The film feels the need to spoon feed it’s metaphors to the audience. Sam selling his body to find a life away from the country that would see him killed is not subtle. The themes of exploitation are hard to miss. Despite this the film took a three scene break to add a subplot of a group of philanthropists who want to save Sam from exploitation. The subplot only shows up to hammer in the already apparent themes and is then quickly forgotten with nothing coming from the subplot in terms of story.
Bluntness aside, The Man Who Sold His Skin is still an effective film. The themes while overly explained are effective and explore a worthwhile topic. Similarly, director Kaouther Ben Hania is not without talent. The film is filled with complex shot compositions filled with mirrors. I would just have appreciated a film that trusted it’s audience more.