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Your Face

[…] To look at a face as if looking at a landscape: this is the key to enter into «Your Face».

[…] «Your Face»’s strength is in its capacity to convey a multi-layered discourse through a very minimalist setting. The faces become the starting point to unfold the condensing of time, emotions, stories, life.

[…] This particular hesitation between a personal involvement and an interrogation of the medium constitutes the ultimate value of our experience as spectators. Perhaps, more than an experience of intimacy with these persons, we live what can be called a rich encounter with a mask.

One could refer to Kevin B. Lee’s video-essay The Spielberg Face to highlight the “cheap” theme of the face both as eye-catcher and as tool to install a cinematic relation of power, where the spectator is subjugated in easy identification and astonishment, but Tsai Ming-liang’s Your Face is the perfect demonstration of how taking the theme of the face seriously leads to the experience of impossible identification, to the acknowledgment of the profundity of the face, to an exercise of discovery. Ming-liang’s filmic experiment recalls the paradigmatic stance of the French painter Camille Corot, who explored the analogy between the landscape and the portrait. To look at a face as if looking at a landscape: this is the key to enter into Your Face. Therefore, we take the details of the skin as being a geographical map, and the micro-expressions as creating a short story of immediate emotions.

In a studio setting and under highly artificial lighting, Ming-liang favours old people that, even without articulating a single word, are able to tell stories and disclose history. Yet, the words come, and come as revelations – particularly through the wonderful introductory “scene” of the old woman exercising her own face muscles before speaking. Your Face’s strength is in its capacity to convey a multi-layered discourse through a very minimalist setting. The faces become the starting point to unfold the condensing of time, emotions, stories, life. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s freely adapted music score is skilfully used to express this unfolding: more than a simple commentary, it is a parallel that opens up new perspectives on the faces.

The plurality of elements notwithstanding, this experience documentary always keeps the central position of the face as the fundamental thread. The images become the materialisation of concentration – and I wonder whether a squared frame would have helped to better express it. Even if the twelve characters almost never look at the camera, we cannot avoid being called into question as asymmetric interlocutors – as “counter faces” – and/or as an embodiment of the camera eye itself. This particular hesitation between a personal involvement and an interrogation of the medium constitutes the ultimate value of our experience as spectators. Perhaps, more than an experience of intimacy with these persons, we live what can be called a rich encounter with a mask – which is the correct translation of the Latin word “persona”. The infinitude of the face is nothing but the inescapability of its being a mask, a mask made of stories, expressions, and emotions.

First published: November 06, 2018

Your Face | Film | Tsai Ming-liang | TWN 2018 | 77’ | Biennale di Venezia 2018, GIFF Genève 2018

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Screenings at GIFF Genève 2018

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