by Zachary Goldkind Film Retrospective

Your Face | Tsai Ming-liang

June 18, 2020

In considering the artistic decay posed within the persisting practice of archetypal expository documentary, Your Face represents a confrontation with history and convention, here mapped in the contours and minute expressions playing out across a variety of people. A selection of 12 faces interact with the camera in a liminal state. Tsai has constructed a simple work, preoccupied with the spectral qualities of history, enabling a different sort of engagement where a series of questions are posed, to be ruminated on by an observant public. (I) What of performance can be found in one’s eyes? Is what we witness experienced in context with the invasiveness of the camera lens, or has Tsai orchestrated what is to be conveyed: sleep, stare, play aloof, be charismatic, etc. (II) What is the difference in the reading of history, when when considering its plausible contortion by the individual, and between someone offering an anecdote of their past versus simply a pair of austere glazing eyes? Ultimately, (III) how can we reconcile the innate subjectivity in a camera’s explicit version of reality, enacted through the eyes of a filmmaker, when observing the mundane act of the subject’s gaze? “Your Face” is a phrase that specifically evokes an outside perspective, a witness, one person seeing another—the empirical is positioned at the fore. Where can we begin to engage with all of this? What can we extract from our assumptions of authenticity, or from our scrutinies of the opposite?

The faces, prior, were too constrained by their own contexts, the interplay of dialectic musings on whether the presented busts of each individual held their own idea of truth in confrontation of Tsai’s cinematic eye—the complex orientation of cinematic object made of body versus cinematic object made of architecture.

Tsai’s collaboration with Ryuichi Sakamoto here has brought to the film the only facet that can embellish some kind of ‘truth’ in the presented images. Sakamoto’s score offers an acutely discursive affect to the portraiture, evoking the sensibilities of a haunting, through compositions made of rumbling ambiences, the sharp percussion of cymbals, and incorporeal industrial hymns. All of this builds a discordant relationship, where image and sound play the role of likened poles under the rule of magnetism. The anterior is the exhibition of an unmediated autonomy, the face of another beholden to their own secrets and lineage. It is only with the final shot, where a theater, the space wherein the portraits were taken, becomes a canvas onto which we can project—the empty, grand hall an arbiter, inviting the sensorial accents of Sakamoto’s phantom music to define representation and, therefore, history. The faces, prior, were too constrained by their own contexts, the interplay of dialectic musings on whether the presented busts of each individual held their own idea of truth in confrontation of Tsai’s cinematic eye—the complex orientation of cinematic object made of body versus cinematic object made of architecture. This is a relationship that often defines Tsai Ming-liang’s films, the wrestling of body in friction with the oppressing world. It is here, however, where Tsai seeks an excavation of the affect in the cinematic gaze. We hear his voice as he talks to some of his subjects, and they talk back, seemingly looking at him, his body, ignoring the mechanical appendage that holds power over their being. Tsai reappropriates their face, your face, and the quiet battle we all face to keep personal histories from becoming disassociated from our bodies.

Part of Tsai Ming-liang: A Few Long, Lonely Moments.

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