Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Movie with Abe: The Man Who Sold His Skin

The Man Who Sold His Skin
Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania
Release TBD

There are many things people would do for love, and countless stories throughout history of those who believe they are destined to be together kept apart by any number of obstacles and boundaries. The power of those who are separated to find a way to reunite may be limited, and if there is indeed a happy ending, it usually comes after a considerable amount of suffering and tremendous perseverance despite repeated setbacks. The notion of a shortcut to make that process infinitely simpler is certainly appealing, but the price may be too high, a concept cleverly investigated in Tunisia’s official Oscar submission for Best International Feature.

Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) proclaims his love for Abeer (Dea Liane) on a train and invokes language of rebellion, resulting in his arrest by the Syrian government and the need to flee the country immediately for fear of severe repercussions. Arriving in Lebanon, Sam meets Soraya (Monica Bellucci) and her client Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), a renowned artist who makes Sam an unusual offer. Sam allows Jeffrey to use his back as a canvas for his latest piece, and in return receives a visa to settle in Belgium, where Abeer has moved with her new husband, Ziad (Saad Lostan), though he is fully intent on winning her back.

This is a film that presents ideas typically discussed as metaphorical and makes them all literal. Sam’s visa comes with a physical image of a visa on his back, representative of the way in which art can move about much more freely than human beings throughout the world. Sam becomes less important and certainly less valuable than that which has been imprinted on him, and he even becomes an item in an auction, a scenario that a lawyer defends as not comparable to human trafficking because it is the laws that have not evolved as much as the art. Like Lebanon’s Oscar-nominated “The Insult,” this film has a simple premise that spirals into something far more meaningful with every misstep and appropriation attempting to speak for Sam’s experience and what his role as tableau means for the Syrian community in general.

There is a marvelous humanity that exists in this film and its characters, embodied most by Mahayni in a phenomenal performance as the singularly-minded, impatient, and temperamental Sam. Opposite him, Liane makes Abeer three-dimensional and complex, aware of her situation and that true love won’t spirit her away from reality. Bellucci and De Bouw contribute positively, balancing their wealthy haughtiness with believable intellect. In this film’s depiction of the laughable perspective some have on the motivations and desires of immigrants and refugees, it smartly avoids being similarly reductive in its presentation of them. Though some of its turns are predictable, this film is still full of surprises, and ends on an equally buoyant and contemplative note that punctuates an enthralling and highly worthwhile viewing experience.


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