Syrian refugee Sam Ali (Yahya Mahayni) agrees to let a famous artist (Koen De Bouw) tattoo his back, essentially becoming his work of art; the arrangement takes him to Europe, but he wants to get back to the woman (Dea Liane) he loves. The director was inspired by the controversial Belgian artist Wim Delvoye; it’s a clever way to satirize the world of highbrow art and to bring issues of integrity into the refugee crisis caused by the war in Syria. Kaouther Ben Hania makes her points early on and the romance isn’t the film’s strongest ingredient, but the film still maintains one’s interest throughout. Mahayni is terrific, making it easy for us to sympathize with him.
2020-Tunisia-France-Germany-Belgium-Sweden-Turkey-Cyprus. 104 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Martin Hampel, Thanassis Karathanos, Annabella Nezri. Written and directed by Kaouther Ben Hania. Cast: Yahya Mahayni (Sam Ali), Dea Liane (Abeer), Koen De Bouw (Jeffrey Godefroi), Monica Bellucci, Saad Lostan, Darina Al Joundi.
Trivia: Delvoye makes an appearance as an insurance broker.
Venice: Best Actor (Mahayni).
Last word: “I faced a lot of prejudgment – like I’m not only Arab, I’m also African, I come from this North African, Muslim, Arab background, I’m a woman – so I have the entire package of some expectation of that box where people who finance cinema think I belong. I heard sentences like ‘it’s not what we expect from you,’ or ‘it’s too international for you,’ and even ‘what is your legitimacy to talk about contemporary art, do you really know about this? Because Tunisia isn’t known for having a contemporary art world…’ You know, things like this which reduce you to this small box, and when I started writing this story, I never thought of these issues. It’s only in the financing process that the issue of trust came up. Am I trustworthy? It was a very complicated journey to finance this movie.” (Ben Hania, Flaunt)