The Man Who Sold His Skin

Kaouther Ben Hania

Tunisia, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Turkey, 2020 / 104 min / Arabic, English & French OV with French & Dutch subt. / Drama

LuxFilmLab – 5th May 2021

A Syrian refugee enters a Faustian pact with a tattoo artist to get to Europe as a living artwork.

Sam Ali, a young sensitive and impulsive Syrian, left his country for Lebanon to escape the war. To be able to travel to Europe and live with the love of his life, he accepts to have his back tattooed by one of by the world’s most renowned but also controversial contemporary artists. His own body turned into a prestigious living work of art and promptly exhibited in a museum, Sam will soon realise that he has sold away more than just his skin and that his decision came at the cost of his freedom.

“Tunisian director and screenwriter Kaouther Ben Hania creates a cutting art-world-satire that transforms a Syrian refugee's quest to be reunited with his lost love into a sharp and sublime depiction of self-fulfilling freedom. […] The Man Who Sold His Skin like The Square, offers a self-conscious provocative commentary on the world of culture and art.” Stockholm Film Festival

Wed 05/05 19:30 Ciné Utopia Arabic, EN & FR OV with FR & NL subt. Public

“Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s film, nominated for a Best International Feature Oscar this year, is at once literal-minded and evocative. It tackles the refugee crisis, capitalism, political repression, and First World hypocrisy within the context of an art-world satire. It’s sometimes confused in conception, but never confusing. It’s a wild, modern-day fable that is lively and thought-provoking […] Ben Hania has found an exciting conceit with which to probe the peculiar status of statelessness in the modern world, one where art and commerce can move unchecked but humans can’t. […] The Man Who Sold His Skin winds up being a surprisingly entertaining movie about some heavy subjects. Don’t be shocked if it wins that Oscar.” Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 09/04/2021

“The story was loosely inspired by a real-life event, when the now-retired Belgian artist Wim Delvoye […] tattooed an art work on the back of a man named Tim, who still goes on display several times a year.” Bilge Ebiri, Vulture, 09/04/2021

“A not-always-easy-to-swallow story audaciously questions the commodification of human beings. […] Ben Hania’s screenplay combines the humanitarian crisis in Syria with the vagaries of the international art market to ask some uncomfortable questions about the commodification of a human life. […] on the whole, this is a stimulating work that highlights important issues and once again confirms Ben Hania as a rising talent.” Alissa Simon, Variety, 10/02/2021

“With The Man Who Sold His Skin, Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania crafts a biting art-world satire, turning a Syrian refugee’s quest to reunite with his lost love — and controversial decision to become a tattooed living canvas — into a slick, sublimely shot musing on freedom. […] Ben Hania and cinematographer Christopher Aoun (Capernaum) take cues from art history, using one visual medium to explore another as they vividly frame the characters. […] it’s the central performance by feature first-timer Mahayni that best demonstrates the picture’s overall charms. Sam is lively but vulnerable, earnest yet impudent, and impulsive but grounded, and Mahayni bears much of the film’s weight as a result — and almost constantly proves arresting.” Sarah Ward, ScreenDaily, 05/09/2020

“A movie that ends in a place you don’t expect can either be frustrating or satisfying, depending on the means a filmmaker takes to get there. The Man Who Sold His Skin, from Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania, hits some ominous and sinister notes as it tangles with serious political and social issues, among them the plight of refugees, the nature of art and exploitation, and various facets of self-loathing. But it ends on a surprisingly airy note, and that makes all the difference. The world is full of worthy, artistic movies that unduly punish us, but The Man Who Sold His Skin—which has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Feature category—isn’t one of them.” Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine, 09/04/2021

  • Venice Horizons Award – Best Actor for Yahya Mahayni, Venice Film Festival, 2020 (Italy)
  • Best Screenplay, Stockholm Film Festival, 2020 (Sweden)
  • Best Arab Film, El Gouna Film Festival, 2020 (Egypt)
  • Edipo Re Award, Venice Film Festival, 2020 (Italy)
Cast & Credits
Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim, Marc De Panda, Najoua Zouhair
Kaouther Ben Hania
Christopher Aoun
Anders Billing Vive
Sophie Abdelkef
Amine Bouhafa
Tanit Films, Cinétéléfilms, Twenty Twenty Vision Filmproduktion, Kwassa Films, Laika Film & Television
Metafora Media Production, Sunnyland Film, Film i Väst, Istiqlal Films

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania studied cinema in Tunis and Paris, at the Fémis and the Sorbonne. She directed several shorts, including Wooden Hand (2013) which was selected in multiple international festivals and won numerous awards. Her documentary Imams Go to School premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in 2010. The Blade of Tunis, her first fiction feature, opened the ACID strand of the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. Next, she directed Zaineb Hates the Snow (2016) which screened in the Locarno Film Festival’s Official Selection. The film went on to win the Golden Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival and the Best Documentary Award at the CINEMED Festival in Montpellier. In 2017, she returned to Cannes with Beauty and the Dogs, selected in the “Un Certain Regard” category. The Man Who Sold His Skin, her third fiction feature, had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2020 and was nominated for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film in 2021.

  • 2020 – The Man Who Sold His Skin
  • 2018 – Les pastèques du Cheikh (short)
  • 2017 – La belle et la meute
  • 2016 – Zaineb n’aime pas la neige (documentary)
  • 2013 – Le Challat de Tunis
  • 2013 – Peau de colle (short)
  • 2010 – Les imams vont à l’école (documentary)
  • 2006 – Moi, ma sœur et la chose (short)
  • 2005 – Brèche (short)