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The Face of Another

#327 - The Face of Another
Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1966

After his face is horribly disfigured by a workplace accident, a man seeks out a scientist with the intention of asking him for a new face.

Though it could loosely be considered science-fiction due to its reliance on the invention of artificial faces that are indistinguishable from the real thing (which is still a while away from existing even in 2015), The Face of Another sure doesn't feel like science-fiction. Instead, it's more of a rumination on how people live with their identities, especially when those identities may be changed by physical deformity or the concealment of said deformity through scientific endeavour. It is shot through with a sort of magical realism defined by its quasi-documentarian black-and-white camerawork and its weird score that alternates between atonal clangs and a leitmotif that uses a Bavarian-sounding waltz. As per its artistic sensibilities, it is a slow-moving piece that stretches out its high concept by taking at least a third of the two-hour running time to even get to the point where the protagonist receives his lifelike mask. As befitting such an artistically-minded film, it is often packed out with strikingly surreal images and verbose dialogues examining the nature of the experiment at the heart of the film.

The performances are appropriately understated for the most part, with the protagonist initially garnering some sympathy due to his situation but quickly squandering it as his disfigurement leads to him becoming more and more discourteous towards others in an effort to prove something. Hardly the most sensitive portrayal of physical disability, especially when it's combined with a disconnected sub-plot about a similarly disfigured young woman that comes across as largely irrelevant save for the occasional counter-point to the protagonist's storyline (which does add to the feeling that this film is a bit too long). Thanks to the arty nature of the film, it stays unpredictable up until its finishing minutes and proves an interesting enough piece of hyper-realistic sci-fi with some interesting little dialogues and viscerally unsettling scenes, but it doesn't quite manage to be a classic thanks to some rather outdated modes of thinking (such as another sub-plot involving the protagonist's interactions with a mentally challenged neighbour) and a relative lack of tightness.