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Certainly one of the most original and unusual movies to be nominated in any category at the Oscars this year is  International Film contender The Man Who Sold His Skin from Tunisia. The film merges the world of Syrian refugees and the tony world of high art in a unique mix of drama, comedy, thriller and social issues.

Appearing on a panel for the Samuel Goldwyn Films pic at Deadline’s Contenders Film: The Nominees all-day virtual event, three of the actors and director-writer Kaouther Ben Hania talked about the ambitious film and how it came about.

“It was inspired by a work of a Belgian artist,” said its director. “She was in a museum and saw a man basically on exhibit. That was the starting point. I had the image of this man showing his back in my head, and then the idea came about of merging the story of a Syrian refugee who is approached by an artist wanting to use him as a palette as it were and tattoo his entire back for his latest work.”

After a six-month casting process, Ben Hania cast Syrian actor Yahya Mahayni as the lead character of Sam. The star said he had three separate stickers superimposed on his back, a process that initially took three hours to complete, but it also had its pluses. “I never had skin as clean and pores as beautiful after doing this every day,” he laughed. Veteran star Monica Bellucci played Soraya, a veteran of the art world. She went blonde for the part and collaborated with the director on just the right look for a woman in her position.

“This film is so beautiful, original and courageous at the same time,” she said. “It was really an experience to be in this film, a new experience in some ways.”

Stage actor Dea Liane made her film debut and also appeared on the Contenders panel to talk about it.

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