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Director(s): Ming-Liang Tsai
JOAN DUPONT, NEW-YORK TIMES, DECEMBER 2008 :
The Louvre, Gardens to Boiler Room, Becomes a Filmmaker’s Set -
Strange things have been happening at the Louvre recently. A stag was sighted running wild in the gardens of the Tuileries. Discordant piano sounds have emanated from Napoleon III’s apartments. And the ravishing Laetitia Casta, the latest model for the bust of Marianne, who represents the French Republic across the country, was spotted half-naked among dusty pipes in the boiler room. In Tsai Ming-liang’s new feature, “Visages” (“Face”), a stag appears in the Tuileries gardens. There’s a simple explanation for all these oddities: the museum happens to be the set in which the Maylasian-born director Tsai Ming-liang, who is based in Taiwan, shot the final scenes of his latest film, “Visages” (“Face”). Catherine Derosier-Pouchous, who is in charge of the Louvre’s film, audiovisual and multimedia department, sees the museum as a space with dramatic potential. It was the Louvre’s idea to extend this invitation to Mr. Tsai. “We wanted to create a collection open to contemporary artists by inviting international directors with a singular artistic vision from Asia, America and Europe,” she said. The Louvre gave him complete artistic control over the project. And “Face” was inspired by this invitation.
This is Mr. Tsai’s 10th movie. He has won prizes at Berlin, Cannes and Venice for his moody reveries — “I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone,” “Vive L’Amour,” “The River,” “The Hole” — often shot in damp, claustrophobic spaces. Known for long, dimly lighted close-ups of unusual erotic encounters, he has also been inspired by François Truffaut. His “What Time Is It There?” was made in tribute to Truffaut and starred Jean-Pierre Léaud, who began his career as the runaway boy in “The 400 Blows.” “Face,” set in the Louvre’s royal apartments, around the Pyramid and in hidden sanctums, is a film within a film, about a Taiwanese director (Kang-sheng Lee) who is making a loopy adaptation of the lurid story of Salome (Ms. Casta), the stepdaughter of Herod who demands the head of John the Baptist. (Mr. Léaud). The cast also includes the Truffaut favorites Jeanne Moreau, Fanny Ardant and Nathalie Baye. Ms. Moreau was an early love of Truffaut’s, Ms. Ardant his last. In “Face” Ms. Ardant plays the part of a producer trying to get her madcap movie made; Ms. Moreau appears in to her in a dream, a soothing muse. "The entire film is inspired by François Truffaut," Ms. Moreau said in a telephone interview. "We played archetypes of Truffaut’s actresses. I was Catherine from ‘Jules and Jim,’ and also the heroine of ‘The Bride Wore Black.’ I wore a white dress with black and white diamonds. And Jean-Pierre plays a director who desperately misses his double — François. We improvised, and I adore that.” Referring to Mr. Tsai, she said, “He is so special, an outlaw and a dreamer — a director like that can take you to heaven, or the worst hell."
The Louvre took some risks inviting such a man to exercise his hocus-pocus in its hallowed halls — and to shoot homoerotic encounters in the bushes of the Tuileries. Before filming, Mr. Tsai haunted the Louvre for two years, free to roam apartments and spaces that had never been open to the public. A fireman on the set took Mr. Tsai to a hidden pond beneath the Louvre, where the director then shot Ms. Casta up to her waist in murky waters. And he filmed Mr. Léaud crawling out of what looks like a giant mouse hole beneath Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of St. John the Baptist. Mr. Tsai made “Face” in six weeks, with a team from the Taiwanese production company Homegreen Films and a French crew from JBA Production. […]
On the afternoon of Dec. 19, Ms. Casta’s last day on the set, Mr. Tsai, dressed in black and wearing sandals, was intently running the show behind his video monitor. He is a director of silences. He understands French and English, but prefers Mandarin, spoken in whispers to his interpreter. When he calls, “Action,” it sounds like a prayer. There in the boiler room in the bowels of the Louvre, some of the crew wore anti-pollution masks against the dust, and Ms. Casta gamely dragged a train of gauze and bangles through the soot, saving a few coughs for later.
After the break Mr. Tsai talked about Ms. Casta. “I chose Laetitia because she wasn’t a typical actress, she has a fresh face.” He expressed admiration for the French director Robert Bresson and his way of choosing unorthodox actresses. “Laetitia has that quality,” he said. “She’s new.” Mr. Tsai said he loved the way she danced with the stag in the snowy Tuileries, minimally clad in Christian Lacroix and singing Chinese songs against a tape. (Mr. Lacroix designed the film’s costumes, and Philippe Decouflé choreographed Salome’s dances.) “She was very good,” Mr. Tsai said, “and she had never done anything like that before.” Ms. Casta, who started her career as a model, has had tamer assignments. “It was fake snow,” she said, “but it was cold out there, and the minute I moved, the stag got scared and ran off into the gardens.” “This is the first time I’ve done anything so experimental,” she added. “But I knew Ming-liang’s films — I trusted him. He works with his unconscious, so it was like being in a dream. I was astonished that the Louvre instigated a film like this.” “Face,” originally titled “Salome,” was part of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Atelier project, a showcase for films seeking completion financing. If all goes well, it may turn up at the festival next May.