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Film Of The Week: Be careful what you wish for…

MARIA DUARTE recommends a Faustian tale inspired by the bizarre but true story of a man whose back became a work of art

The Man Who Sold His Skin (12A)
Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania

 

THIS powerful Oscar-nominated satire about civil war, love, contemporary art and refugees is inspired by controversial Belgian artist Wim Delvoye (who appears in cameo) and his (in)famous “living work”: the tattooed back of a man, Tim Steiner, which was sold to a private collector in 2008.

In writer-director Kaouther Ben Hania’s compelling drama, Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni), an impulsive young Syrian who fled to Lebanon to escape his war-torn country, strikes a deal with the Devil in order to join the love of his life Abeer (Dea Liane) in Belgium.

He agrees to sell his back to renowned artist Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw) — who compares himself to Mephistopheles, the Devil’s agent — who intends to turn it into a multimillion-pound piece of art to display to visitors in museums.

The tattoo, of a Schengen visa, sparks protests accusing Godefroi of exploiting Syrian refugees, and of human trafficking.

The film is a Faustian pact between the privileged and the damned in which Sam soon realises he is just a priceless commodity in a gilded cage. When he develops back acne Godefroi goes nuclear with him and his right-hand woman Soraya (the brilliant Monica Bellucci) for allowing his work to be tarnished.

The drama also provides a fascinating, alternative insight into the elitist contemporary art world through Sam’s naive eyes, as well as a powerhouse performance by Mahayni. The constant humiliation he is forced to endure — especially after he is auctioned off to the highest bidder, a private collector — reveals how his freedom is merely an illusion and proves that you should be careful what you wish for.

It is a gripping and thought-provoking drama which ends on a killer twist and shows how truth can be stranger than fiction.

Maria Duarte
In cinemas September 24

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