Film review: The Man
Who Sold His Skin

Taking inspiration from a real life story, Kaouther Ben Hania has crafted an extraordinary tale about the value of human life

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The Man Who Sold His Skin (from 24 Sept, Home, Manchester and other dates and venues) is a startling drama that revolves around a young Syrian man, Sam Ali, who is forced to leave his country for Lebanon. When the love of his life is married off and sent to live in Europe, Sam Ali makes a strange pact with an artist in order to follow her. 

Following a chance encounter at an art show that he gatecrashes to steal from the buffet, Sam Ali meets a renowned and controversial artist who offers him a chance to travel to Europe, but with an extraordinary cost attached: he must allow the artist to use his back as a canvas. By turning his body into a prestigious piece of art, he finds himself held captive to the whims of the artist and the art world, proving his decision might mean anything but the freedom that he has so fiercely sought.

Writer and director Kaouther Ben Hania took her inspiration from the artwork known as Tim, in which Tim Steiner allowed his back to be tattooed by the artist Wim Delvoye, but she mingles this extraordinary story with a clever commentary on the value of humanity versus the value of things. Sam Ali has little chance of getting to Europe as a refugee, but as a piece of art, he’s guaranteed passage there. 

Great performances abound in this moving, stylishly told story. Yahya Mahayni won an award for best actor at the Venice International Film Festival for his role as Sam Ali, the man who quickly finds himself losing control over his own life. Monica Bellucci is terrific as the chilly Soraya, the artist’s right hand woman who must “look after the goods”, and Koen De Bouw is great as the artist so driven to make a statement he doesn’t seem to care what the consequences are. 

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