A Skin So Soft

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

A Skin So Soft
"By simply observing the men as they move around, the film avoids over-interpretation, working hard to leave space for each person watching to find their own narrative as to why each man might have chosen this sport."

"Observe," orders an art teacher in the middle of this documentary. "Don't lose sight of the body's proportions."

They are instructions Denis Côté's latest documentary takes to heart. As with his other factual and semi-factual films (Bestiaire, Joy Of Man's Desiring), he watches subject from unexpected angles, as he once put it to me in an interview: "A film or a story must be ambivalent, ambiguous, my way of looking at things must be oblique." The theme here is bodybuilding and the gaze he takes is steady but often unexpected.

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We aren't introduced by name to the men that he follows, but we soon get to know them through the contours of their skin and their lives. One has a dog, another a toddler, another has a fellow bodybuilder for a wife and a sideline in wrestling, while a fourth a girlfriend who may, or may not, fancy a go at the sport herself. What they have in common is a dedication to their craft.

As Côté mixes scenes of them pumping iron, adopting the poses that they need to accentuate their muscles in competition or doing day-to-day activities, the result becomes a meditative study of man and muscle. There's a dedication and determination here, not just in hefting a tyre across a gym but in shovelling the right sort of food down their throats - one man looks as though eating his avocado meal is proving every bit as difficult an accomplishment as pumping iron. By simply observing the men as they move around, the film avoids over-interpretation, working hard to leave space for each person watching to find their own narrative as to why each man might have chosen this sport.

To underline the construct, there's a hint of puckish fiction in a brief interlude where two men in a gym seem to eye one another competitively, sharply cut together by editor Nicolas Roy to emphasise a potential standoff. Côté raises this 'mythology' knowingly, asking us to look beyond this carefully created cliche in what has gone before and what follows.

Côté's the documentarian isn't interested in asking what makes people tick, at least not directly, instead he shows their tells and lets us draw our own conclusions. His films require the audience to do some heavy lifting but they are filled with rewarding muscular ideas.

Reviewed on: 13 Jun 2018
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A Skin So Soft packshot
Documentary about bodybuilders.

Director: Denis Côté

Writer: Denis Côté

Starring: Jean-François Bouchard, Cédric Doyon, Benoit Lapierre, Maxim Lemire, Alexis Légaré, Ronald Yang

Year: 2017

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: Canada


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Bestiaire
Joy Of Man's Desiring