A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Face of Another (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966)

I haven't read the novel by Kobo Abe on which the film is based, but I suspect that adherence to the source (Abe also wrote the screenplay) weakens the film, which dwells heavily on ideas about identity and morality that are more efficiently explored in literature than in cinema. The central narrative deals with Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) who, having been disfigured in an industrial accident, sees a psychiatrist (Mikijiro Hira) who devises an experimental mask that gives Okuyama an entirely new identity. Wearing the mask, Okuyama seduces his own wife (Machiko Kyo), who tells him that she knew who he was all along and assumed that he was trying to revive their marriage, which had been troubled since his accident. She is enraged when she learns that he was in fact testing her fidelity. But there is a secondary narrative about a beautiful young woman (Miki Irie) who bears scars along one side of her face that, it is suggested, are the result of exposure to radiation from the Nagasaki atomic bomb. In the novel, this story comes from a film seen by the characters in the main story, but Teshigahara withholds this explanation for its inclusion in the film without apparent connection to Okuyama's story. I'm not troubled by the disjunction this creates in the film, because Teshigahara and production designer Masao Yamazaki have developed a coherent symbolic style that creates an appropriate air of mystery throughout The Face of Another. The weakness lies, I think, in the dialogue, especially in the too didactic exchanges between Okuyama and the psychiatrist about the limits and potential of a mutating identity. Nevertheless, it's a fascinating, flawed film, more disturbing than most outright "horror" movies.

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