Before We Vanish by Lawrence Garcia Film

A Skin So Soft | Denis Côté

June 19, 2018

Denis Côté’s A Skin So Soft is the kind of documentary that lives and dies by its subject: here, the niche subculture of bodybuilding as seen through the lifestyles of a few Québécois athletes. Côté’s rigorously and precisely portrays the regimens of various men and women, shown in their home and in their professional lives. Eschewing direct-to-camera interviews for a more observational mode, this method remains attentive to the (quite literal) form of the film’s subjects. In one instance, the camera circles around a bodybuilder modeling for an art class, capturing his musculature in an appropriately monumental manner; in another, Côté cuts between two men at a gym, wryly observing as they eye each other with mutual envy and contempt.

The filmmaking is undeniably accomplished, but it’s also oddly unmotivated—an “exercise” in the most basic sense of the term. Even that designation, though, is not without its own sort of resonance: The film’s lingering impression is of Herculean effort expended on a task that may look utterly pointless to an outsider. The ending makes is message explicit: to push on each day, that takes commitment.

Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.