By Jake Watt
31st July 2019

When you meet someone new, what do you notice about them? Their clothes, height, and hair colour are some of the traits that set us apart, but it’s the person’s face that you remember and recognise in the future.

From bug eyes to aquiline noses, square jaws to chin dimples, no two faces are alike. That diversity may have evolved to make it easier to recognise other people, scientific research indicates.

The shape and configuration of a human face are much more variable, compared with other body parts. What's more, genes that have been linked to face structure vary more than DNA in other regions of the body. This suggests that the forces of evolution have selected for facial diversity, perhaps to make individuals more recognisable to other people, the researchers say.

Director Tsai Ming-liang’s (‘Stray Dogs’, ‘ Rebels of the Neon God’) latest film ‘Your Face’ is comprised of fixed camera close-ups of 13 ordinary ageing (middle-aged and older) human faces from the streets of Taipei. Each face is held onscreen for several long minutes and carefully lit, so viewers can explore every deep crevice and pour over every glistening pore. There's a simplicity of the process, from the posing to the static camera position, that helps ground both the audience and the subject in the moment.


Some of Tsai’s subjects nod off. Some seem a little mystified. Others are amused. One guy talks about pachinko. Tsai’s film presents us with facial expressions, whether settled or animated, and existing in time - not the split-second of a photograph, but the face observed in time, the face in duration. Who are these people? Just as the audience starts to fill in the mysterious identities behind the faces using their imagination, Tsai nudges his subjects with questions, revealing a variety of narratives (although it’s around twenty minutes in before anyone really speaks at length).

For the first time in 20-odd years of filmmaking, Tsai has incorporated music into his work. A blend of Eastern and Western ambient tunes, written by Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, ebb in and out of the documentary, making the procession of weathered faces much easier to watch.

‘Your Face’ is an entry into the sub-genre of the arthouse film that some have called "slow cinema" and others refer to as "contemporary contemplative cinema", which has become more prominent in international film festivals.

Each face is held onscreen for several long minutes and carefully lit, so viewers can explore every deep crevice and pour over every glistening pore.

Not every film needs to have a strong and well-plotted narrative, and not all of them need to be paced fast. Such is our attachment to the very widely accepted norm of the three-act narrative arc that we sometimes forget that films are not “filmed theatre” in the first place. Films can also simply be a sensory experience.

The dovetailing of form and content is what’s crucial, and some things need time to be explored and expressed properly. There’s no such thing as calling a slow film bad by default, because ultimately there are bad slow films and there are also good slow films. This is why sometimes patience can bring its very own special rewards, as slow (and sometimes very slow) films prove to those brave (and sometimes stoned) enough to give them a try.

In modern society, apps such as Calm are finding popularity, allowing you to find tranquillity for a few seconds within the day. Evidently, there is a desire for stillness and silence, taking time to find the beauty in the normalcy of life. These desires can be fulfilled in the cinema, as long as audiences are willing to change their narrative expectations and see film in a different way. Beyond its contemplation of human ageing, ‘Your Face’ creates portraits in time.

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