In 2012 Denis Côté made Bestiare, an experimental documentary which silently observed animals in a Quebec zoo. His latest film, A Skin So Soft, follows the same form he established in that film, following six anonymous bodybuilders as they prepare for competition.
While the lives and concerns of these muscle men are certainly different from most, the human subjects aren’t as fascinating as the animals of Bestiare. We don’t see the same hypnotic mystery in their gaze which made that film really transcend documentary.
These films are like Québécoise cousins to the work of Frederick Wiseman. Like Wiseman, Côté will settle on an everyday subject and challenge the viewer to find the beauty, poignance, relevance, or whatever they may. A Skin So Soft uses a relatively shorter shot length and more cuts to achieve this, which makes for a more manageable runtime, but makes some parts feel slightly staged.
If there’s a thesis here, it’s a vague one. One thing that’s clear is that these men, who probably get stereotyped and have a lot of assumptions made about them, are all very different. From their home lives to their training methods, and even their resulting physiques, no two are the same.