A Syrian couple, Sam and Abir are separated by the Civil War in Syria. Her family forces her to marry a richer man and move with him to Brussels. In the desperate pursuit of money and the needed paperwork to travel to Europe to save his life, Sam accepts to have his back tattooed as a Schengen visa by one of the most controversial contemporary artists in the West. His own body turned into a living work of art and promptly exhibited in a museum. So, by watching the rest of the film, we will see whether Sam did well for his future or not. Does art rescue him?
This satire drama was written and directed by Kaouther ben Hania, a Tunisian film director known for her Beast and the Dogs. The author has chosen a metaphorical expression to catch our attention right from the beginning. If you look at the title of the film , you’ll ask yourself, how can this be real? How can a man sell his skin ? It is really an intricate title.
This Oscar Nominee movie is based on a real work of Art by the Belgium artist Wim Delvoye. A real-life work of art is the inspiration for Kaouther ben Hnia.
Setting of the movie :
Film starts in Syria, Rakka, in 2011, a year known for the beginning of the Syrian civil War as well as social uprisings in other Arab countries e.g. Tunisia, Egypt best known as “Arab Spring”, then the storyline shifts its focus on Sam’s experience in Belgium.
The war was between the Syrian Arab Republic presided by Bashar al Assad and the Islamic State ISIS also known as Daesh. A non-religious secular government against armed forces who want to impose religious principles.
Such a context has pushed many Syrians to flee the country due to poverty and unemployment…Thus, this movie frames the social and political turmoil to give a dramatic flow of events.
Like many others, Sam was bewildered and unemployed because of war. With no job nor future , he has no chance to marry his rich beloved, Abir Khatib. As a wayout, to escape poverty, Sam decides to flee to Belgium and sell his back to an artist , Jefferey Godefroi.
Freedom is the most important point on which the movie director focuses. As we already mentioned, Syria was witnessing a civil war during that period. Syrians were deprived of every aspect of freedom. This was pictured in one of the first scenes, when Sam was arrested for simply saying these words: “Ladies and gentlemen. It’s a revolution. We want freedom. So let’s be free. I love this girl and I want to marry her. Who wants to marry us?”
Since they do not belong to the same social class and Abir cannot choose her own husband, the couple faces an impasse, unable to unite and proclaim their love to one another.
To be short , the movie tackles two different obstacles, political oppression and social pressure.
To escape poverty, Ali accepts the deal with Jefferey, the artist, and gives the legal rights to make his back a canvas, a work of art which the artist paints on his back to the public in a museum .
At first glance, we think that art saves Ali from poverty. Yet, throughout the film we realise that it is not the case .
When he is in Syria, Ali thinks that art will try to let him recover his humanity and freedom. In Belgium, he realises that he sells his back to get the visa and that he buys his freedom to find himself chained again . As he has no control over his own body .
Throughout a shooting session, he realises that they are the ones to tell him what to do and how to use his body.
In the museum, he doesn’t even have the right to take pictures with visitors. He just has to stay still. He is even sold in an auction for 5 million Euros.
Here, we can say that contemporary art is not a blessing but a curse. In other words, this movie is a satire criticizing contemporary Art.
Another topic unveiled with film is human trafficking . The film blurs the line between human rights and trafficking. Ali is exploited by making him sell his skin for 5 million euro . So, here we are no longer talking about artistic work but about cruel exploitation .
At the end of the film, we see the skin donated by the police to the national museum.
As Jefferey says: ”I have to die so that I can finally live.To be part of the system is to be ignored by it.”
The film criticizes such a system through some characters. Jefferey is among those who denounce the visa system and consider it a segregationist aspect of ruling systems, as certain people are considered non grata. The artist describes the era in which we live as a dark one.
According to Jefferrey , immigrants are more devalued than goods . He says that the circulation of commodities around the world is easier than of peeple.
To conclude, I would like to thank Mohamed Moussi for helping in the writing of this review and I hope this article made you want to watch the movie without spoiling it.
(Rotaract Club El Mourouj D.9010)