Total Film


THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN Tunisia’s first Oscar nominee will give you an art attack…


IIwas fed up with classic profiles of artists in cinema,” explains Kaouther Ben Hania to Teasers, sitting beachside at the Venice Film Festival. “They are marginalis­ed, tormented, sometimes alcoholic, sometimes misunderst­ood. Always struggling with their demons!” Instead, the Tunisian filmmaker wanted to show the reality of the contempora­ry art world, showcasing a wealthy and celebrated art entreprene­ur like a Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons.

The Man Who Sold His Skin – which became the first Tunisian movie ever to be nominated for an Oscar earlier this year – does exactly this. Jeffrey Godefroi (Flemish actor Koen De Bouw) is a suave and sophistica­ted artist who finds his masterpiec­e when he meets refugee Sam Ali (Syrian-born newcomer Yahya Mahayni). He conceives of a provocativ­e idea: turning Ali into a work of art by tattooing his back with a Schengen visa, the legal requiremen­t to enter Europe.

This is no fantasy. In 2006, Belgian artist Wim Delvoye struck a deal with one Tim Steiner, a former tattoo-parlour owner from Zurich, to ink his back. “It was a very different tattoo, a very different context,” says Ben Hania, who saw the exhibition after Steiner agreed to become a living artwork.

“It’s shocking and it’s intellectu­ally exciting… to think about all the hidden aspects of this single man exhibited in a museum. What does it mean?”

In exchange for a third of the sale price, Steiner allowed that his back be skinned after his death, so the owner could finally claim and frame this

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