(director/writer: Tsai Ming-Liang; cinematographer: Pen-jung Liao; editor: Jacques Comets; music: Jean-Claude Petit; cast: Lee Kang-Sheng (Hsaio-Kang), Lu Yi-Ching (Kang’s mother), Laetitia Casta (The Star of Salome), Jean-Pierre Leaud (Antoine/King Herod), Fanny Ardant (Producer/Queen Herodas), Laetitia Casta (Salome), Nathalie Baye (Nathalie), Jeanne Moreau (Jeanne), Lu Yi-Ching (Director’s elderly mother); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Vincent Wang/Jacques Bidou/Tsai Ming-Liang/Marianne Dumoulin; Arte Editions-PAL format; 2009-France/Taiwan/Netherlands/Belgium-in French and Mandarin and English, with English subtitles when appropriate)
“Too obscure for my taste.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Malaysian-born Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang’s (“Goodbye, Dragon Inn”/”the Hole”/”The River”) somewhat strange tribute to Francois Truffaut. Its premise has Taiwanese director Hsaio-Kang (Lee Kang-sheng), playing the alter ego part of a perplexed Tsai Ming-Liang, going to the Louvre to shoot a movie about the biblical character Salome, assisted by such Truffaut veterans as Fanny Ardant playing Queen Herodas and Jean-Pierre Leaud playing King Herod. In one stunning scene Laetitia Casta, who plays Salome, is lip-synching Chinese ballads in a snowy forest. A grief-stricken Tsai during the shoot has to deal with the real-life death of his beloved elderly mother (Lu Yi-Ching) due to cancer, and also that his actors are comically lost for a time in the Louvre’s labyrinthine basement.

Visage was commissioned by the Louvre. It’s a project in which the museum is giving access to its premises to a group of directors and partially funding the movies they film there.

Though it has a few colorful striking visuals and imaginative moments, this one was too obscure for my taste and too underwhelming in its plotless narrative. It doesn’t seem to have much to say about anything other than personal recollections of the director, as it seems to be more suited as a dreamlike film telling about the filming of Salome and alternating those scenes with weird dream sequences and energetic musical numbers. One of the wackiest scenes is whenTruffaut’s former three muses, Jeanne Moreau, Nathalie Baye and Fanny Ardant, are alone at a huge dining hall table in the place once occupied by Napoleon III and while waiting for the 17 invited guests to show the trio hums the theme song from Truffaut’s 1962 Jules and Jim. Scenes like that were curiously odd, but didn’t have enough heft to completely win me over to this experimental film.

Face was an official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

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