Tsai's Visages: When Salome faced the Dharma
Today in Paris, Taiwan director Tsai Ming-Liang described his new film Face [Visages, 臉] commissioned by France’s Louvre Museum, as one that is going to be crazy. This is because Tsai wants to take notions of Buddhism into, and clash them, with the free-spiritedness of Western art as exemplified by those exhibited in the Louvre.
Tsai Ming-liang stressed that the film will be very special, "because there is such a strange combination: the refreshingly beautiful Laetitia [Casta], * French Nouvelle Vague director Truffaut’s leading actor [Jean-Pierre] Léaud, as well as his last actress Fanny Ardent, a non-French speaking director, and my own alter ego ‘little-Kang’ (Lee Kang-sheng); all wrapped by the Louvre, the film shall be a gift. "
Tsai Ming-liang’s own Buddhist beliefs have a special importance on the film’s theme, particularly the notion of Three Dharma Seals [三法印] “impermanence [諸行無常], impersonality [諸法無我] and unsatisfactoriness [涅盤寂靜],” states of which the film shall attempt to portray. These concepts came to Tsai after three years of visiting the Louvre. He hopes to show “how everything is illusory, just as cinema is illusory, but what is important is how the face of illusions exist, and must be endured.”
In casting Laetitia therefore, Tsai Ming-liang was most interested in her unique face, "I can feel intimate, as the audience can feel intimate with the face". But also, due to the language barrier, Laetitia has spoken of how she viewed Tsai Ming-Liang’s appearance "one looking like a Buddha, but a Buddha that is a bit crazy."
After Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung declined the original offer to star, Tsai Ming-liang immediately began looking for a replacement, maintaining the requirement of creating a film around its starring role; which would make it easier to market, the most part of his struggle until the emergence of Laetitia. So much that Tsai excitedly remarked “because of her, she entirely changed my traditionalist conception of Salome.”
As a former model, Laetitia brings to cinema the aura gained from her previous casting as the prestigious Marianne bust. Tsai gets very excited when reflecting on the relationship between films, models and the way people generally think of actors; citing the French director [Robert] Bresson’s meditations on film actors as models.
Tsai is also aware that Laetitia’s own background in fashion, will affect his take on Salome, becoming almost a Salome of fashion. Laetitia’s background will seem like a previous life, an echo from a lifestyle of fashion and designers that Tsai is willing to welcome to the film, “that world is too big, but it does stimulate in me many new ideas, I think it will be fun.”
Laetitia recognised in Tsai Ming-liang's film the hallmarks of a true auteurist, including so much of that which is free and poetic, "I am not afraid of his past but instead find it useful," but unlike other directors sharing in the hope that their roles be taken to like good students, “we worked together on my performance in order to enhance the narrative”, adding further that “he is a foreign director without biases, I really began to feel like a true actress.”
Laetitia is also very excited to be performing with Lee Kang-sheng, "because they do not know what might happen”. In reply, Lee Kang-sheng spoke of Laetitia as refreshing and distinct, seemingly both intimate and accessible as well as aloof like a noble; providing the role with an abundant potential for subtlety, "we believe that the it will be a very happy collaboration.”
Tsai Ming-liang also spoke about his casting of Léaud; since Léaud offered himself as a solid and ever-present face of Truffaut’s films from the age of fourteen, the impact of this method then, influenced Tsai to choose the same film-making path, “to me, he has my total respect, he is like an idol, a god.”
"Through my contact with him however, he became human, he would age; even in facing the myriad harshness of reality, for example, becoming obsolete, finding little work and experiencing ill health, Truffaut would, if he was still alive, certainly agree with how I shot him today, he would shoot him just as he is now.” Tsai reassured Léaud that their collaboration as director and actor “will be planting the seeds of the fruit of eternal love.”
Original Chinese text at UDN.com, posted by Tsai Ming-Liang at his blog: Director Tsai's Diary, this translation by Edwin Mak. Image: Tsai Ming-Liang.
* The author uses the first name of Laetitia rather than her surname, my translation keeps to that usage henceforth.