Face You Deserve, The (2004)

An artistic attempt at expressing and exorcising the ghosts of childishness in adulthood, but Gomes’ feature debut left me cold and unbothered.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Review #2,150

Dir. Miguel Gomes
2004 | Portugal | Drama/Comedy/Fantasy | 103 mins | 1.85:1 | Portuguese
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some mature themes

Cast: Jose Airosa, Gracinda Nave, Sara Graca
Plot: An epigram opens the film: “Up to your 30s, you have the face God has given you. After that you get the face you deserve.” A prelude then follows a kids entertainer turning 30 and having a hard time of it. In the second part, seven men in the woods live according to a set of childish ritual games.
Awards: –
Source: O Som e a Furia

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Childishness, Adulthood
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

This is my second Miguel Gomes film and it’s a disappointing watch.  I was utterly impressed by Tabu (2012) and looking forward to seeing Our Beloved Month of August (2008) and his three-parter adaptation of Arabian Nights (2015), but his first feature, The Face You Deserve, left me cold and unbothered. 

That being said, it’s not a bad film and there’s certainly artistry and imagination involved.  I just can’t seem to feel for a whimsical narrative that plays out its qualities too early, so much so that it already exhausts them even before reaching the midpoint.  It reminds me similarly of how I felt towards Alejandro Jodorowsky’s feature debut, Fando and Lis (1968) as well. 

Structured in two asymmetrical parts, The Face You Deserve centres on a man named Francisco (who reluctantly turns 30 on his birthday) whose childish nature is at odds with not just his age, but an annoyance to the people around him. 

That’s the first part; in the second much longer part, he is rarely seen.  Instead, we become acquainted with seven men who are no different behaviorally to Francisco. 

In a sort of rift of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’, each man is introduced with a defining characteristic as they live together in a house, making up rituals, rules and punishments in an elaborate self-serving ‘game’. 

There are some interesting moments that border on magical realism, but while it is a creative work and no doubt highly resonant to anyone on its wavelength, I found it elusive. 

It’s difficult to identify with any of the characters or their insular world, though one might sort of understand what Gomes is trying to do, which is probably an artistic attempt at expressing and exorcising the ghosts of childishness in adulthood. 

There comes a point in our existence where we must repress the child in us and face a lifetime of rationalism—The Face You Deserve depicts this symbolically, but alas, this symbolism didn’t work for me. 

Grade: D

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