The Man Who Sold His Skin: Review. By Alif Majeed.
When you come across a movie that was nominated for an Oscar for international film, it can play big-time with your expectations. It is often one of the most dissected and controversial of the Academy categories. It gets scrutinized so much because the world is the oyster, and you keep wondering why a particular movie deserves to be in the Top 5 among all the films submitted. After watching The Man who sold his skin, I’m still not sure if it deserved to be up there as opposed to any other movie submitted last year, but I was moved by what I saw.
The movie is about Sam Ali (played with assured arrogance by Yahya Mahayni), who runs away to avoid getting arrested on the same day he proposed to his girlfriend Abeer (Dea Liane). It is a decision he instantly regrets as her family forces her to marry an affluent man working in their Embassy in Brussels for her safety and future.
He desperately tries to find his way to Belgium and has many a door shut in his pursuit to get there because of his nationality and the complicated circumstances in his country. He then sells his soul (or rather his skin) to the devil, who comes in the form of Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), a world-renowned artist who wants to use Sam as part of his latest project.
Keon is a real highlight of the movie, both being the devil and angel in disguise at various parts of the film. He is a person who is well aware of the privileges his nationality affords him over many other in the world and has become quite jaded to the fact. His latest artwork involving Sam is almost a cruel joke as he is trying to make an ironic point that shows the extent some people have to go through to move around. He also inadvertently works as a binding link between the two separated lovers.
The love story between Savant and Jubail is lovingly portrayed here. The circumstances under which they had to separate were tragic and felt rooted in reality, which is exactly why you root for them to get together. It is charming to see how much Sam is willing to go to unite with her and does not feel like a meet-cute farce at all. In movies like these, what you are scared of is not whether the couple will get together in the end but simply if they will survive. Because no matter how the movie plays out, you always feel a sense of danger lurking around for the characters and how easily the film can turn into a tragedy. The director, Kaouther Ben Hania, makes us wonder how it would end, and thankfully she manages to keep you invested until the end.
It also makes a brilliant statement about how locals perceive outsiders once the gloves are off. Watch out for the scene where Sam uses the very perception they have of him to his advantage in a moment of utter desperation. It is a powerful scene that works because of its ballsiness.
My biggest issue about the movie, though, is the portrayal of Ziad, Abeer’s husband. Saad Lostan was probably supposed to play him like a sophisticated person who ultimately shows his true colors as a traditional bigot. But, he comes across as a shrill villain who does not have any personality. It looks like it was done so that it would be easier to draw the line for Abeer to make her choice, but you do wish he had a little more personality. The same goes for Monica Belluci’s character as Jeffrey’s manager, whose sole purpose seems to be the villain in Sam’s life while making Jeffrey and his laid-back indifference more appealing.
Now the fact that it gained wider attention because of the Oscar nomination is not important anymore. It is remained in my thoughts long after watching it for what it is trying to say. It deserves to be seen and discussed for its take on freedom and choice. Or how some people have neither as an option.
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