Directed by: Tsai Ming-Liang | 138 minutes | drama, comedy | Actors: Lee Kang-sheng, Lu Yi-Ching, Fanny Ardant, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Laetitia Casta, Norman Atun, Jeanne Moreau, Nathalie Baye, Mathieu Amalric, Shiang-chyi Chen, Chen Chao-rong
An old woman is chopping meat. In the same house, a man is sleeping, undisturbed by the noise of the knife that hits the cutting board at regular intervals. A woman rings the doorbell and looks through the window when the door is not opened. A man is sitting outside in a chair and sleeping. He doesn’t wake up when it starts to snow. A young, beautiful woman looks angrily ahead while smoking a cigarette. After some time she starts to tape the window she is sitting in front of with black tape. She is not very handy; the tape comes off here and there. A description of some of the first scenes that Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-Liang put into his overcrowded (and long!) Film. The mutual coherence is hard to find and it takes at least an hour before the puzzle pieces start to fall into place a bit. Tsai doesn’t make it easy for his audience. But the connoisseur and lover of his work is prepared, and to them “Visage” will be like seeing a friend who has spent a year elsewhere on a sabbatical.
Tsai recycles many of his frequently used themes: just like in “The Wayward Cloud”, “Visage” also has kitschy musical interludes, which actually hardly add anything to the story, but serve as a guilty pleasure. Of course, these scenes are also beautifully filmed, because on balance Tsai’s cinematography is very worthwhile. Tsai’s characteristic long static shots are also included here, as well as scintillating and erotic images. For example, note the scene where protagonist Kang (Lee Kang-sheng) is doused with tomato soup, or sauce and then eagerly, but without control over his condition, watches a dancing, stripping Laetitia Casta with two other naked ladies. Water in all shapes and forms is also prominent: the most beautiful scene is the one where the beautiful Casta in a fiery red dress performs one of the camp numbers in a sewer, the funniest is when Kang is fumbling to turn off the suddenly defective kitchen tap. . An enormously dryly funny moment and that quite quickly in the beginning of the film; it promises a lot. Unfortunately, there is not much to laugh about; because the story is about death and the (difficult) processing thereof, problems with communication and sexuality and the problems involved in directing a film.
“Visage” is a film-in-a-film, although it is not immediately stated what the film being shot in “Visage” is about, as is often not made clear in so many words in Tsais films. A film for lovers of symbolism. “Visage” is also an ode to the Nouvelle vague, the genre in which French directors such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard excelled. This is evident not only from the fact that Jean-Pierre Léaud (Truffaut’s favorite actor) and Fanny Ardant (Truffaut’s partner and muse) play an important role, but also from the fact that conversations are conducted off-screen, for example, without sees the actors, one of the hallmarks of Nouvelle vague films. If you enjoy installations in museums, “Visage” is definitely the film to put high on your to-see list, and audiences who don’t shy away from experimenting should also venture into this production. Some scenes make a deep impression and will stay with you for a lifetime, but the emotional impact of the story that Tsai tells you shouldn’t have high expectations.