THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN – movie review

THE MAN WHO SOLD HIS SKIN (L’homme qui vendu sa peau)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
Writer: Kaouther Ben Hania
Cast: Yahya Mahayni, Dea Liane, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi, Jan Dahdouh, Christian Vadim
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/21/21
Tunisia’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards

Image result for the man who sold his skin poster

Sylvia Sims sang the classic song that opens: “You’d never think they go together/ But they certainly do/ The combination of English muffins/ And Irish Stew.” Top chefs know how to mix quite a number of things that would not have been attempted years ago. In the same way, stories combine groups from different classes, nationalities, and religions. Suprisingly, sometimes they find common ground. One example is found in female director Kaouther Ben Hania’s sophomore feature, which is the official entry of Tunisia into the 93rd Academy Awards competition. She mixes Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) a poor, uneducated Syrian, one who has been arrested for comically inciting rebellion on a train, with Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw), a world-renowned contemporary artist. They find that they can do business together profitably, but in signing a contract that represents a document that binds Faust together with Mephistopheles, the oppressed Arab sells his soul and is ultimately disgraced. Or is he? Ben Hania, whose first film, “Beauty and the Dogs,” tracks a college student brutally assaulted by police officers, turns now to a topic of more international resonance, bringing Syria, Lebanon and Belgium into the bargain.

“L’homme qui vendu sa peau,” the original title which translates directly into the English, begins smashingly on a rail car filled with people who break into cheers when Sam announces that he is in love with his seatmate, Abeer (Dea Liane). His love is requited, and in his moment of ecstasy, he calls for freedom for Syria and is arrested. The plot turns, in fact, on whether Sam himself is a free man or one who in later moments has lost all dignity, shaming his country as well. As our President would say, here’s the deal: When Sam breaks out of jail and meets Jeffrey Godefroi (Koen De Bouw) and his elegant assistant Saroya (Monica Bellucci) in Lebanon, he is offered unusual work. The artist will tattoo a huge Schengen visa on Sam’s back. Sam will be at Jeffrey and Soraya’s beck-and-call to show up in museums and galleries, his back exposed, his head down in a pose of humiliation. In return Sam will be able to travel throughout Europe and receive a sizable commission when the artwork is sold to a collector. Here’s quite a new form of slavery, one that leads an organization that opposes the exploitation of Syrian refugees to sue against mortification of any of its citizens.

Today’s so-called political far-left calls capitalism nothing more than the turning of human beings in commodities, possibly using this film to advance its case. Yet Sam may be able to stay in five-star hotels, “bought off and sold out” as some would say, while Sam enjoys room service caviar, but in the end he is expected (by the movie audience) to regret his agreement to the Faustian deal. Look: Sam becomes a celebrity, able to meet up in Brussels with Soroya—who had entered into her own Faustian bargain by marrying Ziad (Saad Lostan), a rich diplomatic official at the embassy in Brussels.

Concluding moments come off like an exhibition of sedate fireworks that had turned into a thunderous climax. The film’s underlying dark humor comes to the fore, leading to a satisfying conclusion. This is a bold, original work, full of twists, enjoying an ensemble of superb performances especially by Mahayni in only his second full narrative performance.

In Arabic, French, Flemish and English with English subtitles (displayed even when English is spoken!)

103 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – A
Technical – A-
Overall – A-

RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR – movie review

RUBEN BRANDT, COLLECTOR
Sony Pictures Classics
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net by: Harvey Karten
Director: Milorad Krstic
Screenwriter: Milorad Krstic, Radmila Rockov
Screened at: SONY, NYC, 1/24/19
Opens: February 15, 2019

Ruben Brandt, Collector Poster

Why do some people become optometrists? Chances are they got interested in the field because of their own need for eyeglasses. What about dentists? These are people who may have had trouble losing their baby teeth: maybe they failed to get the tooth fairy to reward them since they had nothing to give her in return. And psychotherapists? That’s easy. They’re crazy. Why else would someone become interested in the field? Ruben Brandt is just one of the crazies serving to shrink heads when his own head needs to be whittled down to a more compact size. How do we know? He has nightmares, but not just any dreams about the boogie man hiding under the bed, but dreams in full, vivid color, with enough violence to satisfy Steven King, John Carpenter and Wes Craven combined. Ruben Brandt, analyzing himself, decides that to end nightmares that plague him nightly, he would have to steal thirteen works of great art. Why so? The subjects of these painting are attacking him without mercy. The best—or worst—of the nightmares occur quickly after the start of the film. The title character is riding a train when suddenly, on the outside, a bizarre passenger who at first appears to be hitching a ride without paying is instead intent on sinking her teeth into the therapist. Who could it be? No other than the not-so-innocent Infanta Margarita, blood pouring from her head, obsessed with gaining entrance into Ruben’s cabin to do nasty things.

Putting aside thoughts of suicide, Ruben gathers four of his patients, people already experienced with larceny and worse, bidding them to steal paintings not just from the Guggenheim but requiring them to travel the world snatching canvases from the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Tate, our own MoMA and others. The entire film thematically lauds Picasso, so we see characters along the way with three eyes, one with two heads like the Roman god Janus, but featuring one woman, Mimi, with a soft, sexy voice who when not driving her Mercedes is a gifted gymnast. How are the paintings stolen? In some cases the foursome simply enter a hall, cut the canvas from the frame, wrap it up, and its Rubens’. In one case Mimi shoots an arrow to pierce the apple on the head of a modern William Tell. When the arrow lands on a canvas, she uses the point to encircle the painting and wraps it up. Simple enough especially if you’re a cartoon character.

Once the police determine that the paintings could not be fenced or sold because they are too well known, they decide that the thief is a collector, one with the combined name of Rubens and Rembrandt (Ruben Brandt; get it?) Rewards are posted. When the amount goes to $100 million for the lucky guy who provides information leading to his arrest, the underworld is brought into the fray. At the same time Kowalski, a private eye, sets out on the mission, appearing ultimately in the final scene as a reflection in the window of the train that Ruben is riding.

Considering the work that went into both the hand-drawn and the computer animated, you might expect the movie to be slow-moving, allowing the artists who designed the film to have a job that would allow them to see their families at night. But no: this is as fast-paced as a James Bond picture, featuring in several scenes a Mercedes Benz going at full speed down French city streets to evade equally fast-moving cars determined to block its path. Similarly the characters talk fast, act quickly, and show purpose, though the narrative itself is difficult to follow. That’s how rapidly the story unfolds.

Co-writer and director Kristic, a 66-year-old visual artist working in Hungary, had a crew of 150 animation pros, knocking out this visual candy for just $4.25 million—with support of the Hungarian National Film Fund. Believing that story, graphics, animation, music and sound are equally important, Kristic senses when the music is not right, a shot should be longer or shorter, the camera angle should be at the right height, close-ups should be extreme. This film took him six and one-half years to complete. He asks audiences to give his work their undivided attention for just ninety-five minutes, and, I might add, given how reasonable the time demands are on the audience, this feature deserves not two but multiple viewings to assimilate the various scenes.

We’ve come a long way from Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy, Mickey, Minnie, Tom, Jerry and Woody, who animated the memories of those of us who have been around for half a century.

95 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – N/R
Technical – A
Overall – B+