A Deeply Conflicted Defense of Filmmaking: The Face You Deserve 

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The Face You Deserve (2004)
Directed by Miguel Gomes
April 6 at the Museum of the Moving Image, part of its Celebrating a Decade of Reverse Shot

Francisco is having a bad day. He’s a bitter grownup trapped in a candy-colored, costumed kid’s world—an elementary school during carnival. He has five stitches in his head, he’s jealous of one girlfriend’s 13-year-old stalker, and he spends the night of his 30th birthday serenading a second girlfriend’s answering machine while fretting over his approaching death. The next morning, he wakes up with the measles. And then, in the space of a cut, he’s laid up in a wooded house, watched over by seven dwarves.

From that point on, director Gomes’s debut feature becomes many things: an illustrated storybook (complete with hand-drawn title cards), a Chinese box of interlocking narratives, an elaborate game governed by its own tongue-in-cheek rules (“it is forbidden to read books without pictures or with small print”), and a deeply conflicted defense of moviemaking. The adult, full-sized dwarves are stuck in a sort of perpetual childhood, a world of petty bickering and pettier vengeance, talking lice, magic coins, tooth fairies, floating paper boats, irrepressible appetites and invisible monsters. For Francisco, it’s a regression to childhood that doubles as a chance to overcome childhood’s demons. For Gomes, it’s a defense of cinematic artifice that can’t quite free itself from doubt: why revisit, let alone recreate, the past when the present is so dear and the future so short?

The film climaxes in an extended nightmare packed with betrayals, lost identities and unseen threats, all suggestive of Gomes’s fear that there is no magic—not even the movies—capable of stopping time. Time might not stop at the end of The Face You Deserve, but it does manage, in a sense, to start over again. The night is darkest just before dawn.

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