Facelift

Jan Riesenbeck & Dennis Stein-Schomburg

Three… Two… One… ‘Facelift’ Off!

With the arrival of the television set in people’s homes in the 1960s, the talking heads of the newsreader, the weatherman and the reporter became regulars in every household. With the arrival of YouTube in the 2000s, all of a sudden everybody could become a talking head, with their own voice and opinion, disregarding whatever the newsreader said. With the arrival of the short film Facelift (2019), the talking head literally blasts off the screen and leaves its authoritative position behind on Earth, together with the film’s flabbergasted spectators.

Director duo Jan Riesenbeck and Dennis Stein-Schomburg give their sole actor Daniel Brunet, a.k.a. Talking Head, the full screen in their absurdist short for a miraculous and alienating performance. The Talking Head invites his viewers to hop onto his accelerating train of thought but does not dictate their thoughts. Instead, his impressionist and poetic rant questions everyday know-how about our individual place in modern society. Showing the hypocrisy of our daily routines, he confronts us with the hollowness of regularly heard mantras, such as ‘leading a varied life’ while casually scrolling through a series of useless and monotonous webpages. The liberating resolution to decide not to answer your phone, given at the start of the short, must be broken at the end of the video, being replaced by the next recommendation to like the video and subscribe to the channel! During his verbal demolition of the social norms of the digital age, the batshit crazy and wildly imaginative VFX team takes their job dead serious to find as many forms as possible for the Talking Head: morphing from a human head to a tree, being disassembled as a steampunk cyborg to its mere mechanical parts or housing a legion of tiny versions of himself. As weird as they get, none of the above suffices in halting the Talking Head’s contemplative and seemingly never-ending stream of consciousness. 

On this transformative and erratic rollercoaster ride, the voice-over of the Talking Head narrates the abundancy of impulses that the viewer might recognize from the darkest hours of the night when insomnia hits once again. Facelift gives these human thoughts a sometimes not-so-human face as the Talking Head is constantly reshaped to fit the demands of the 21st century. Is he a plant? Is he a cyborg? Is he a software program? Before the viewer can identify what kind of posthuman form is being presented to them now, the Talking Head races on to the next topic with yet another transfiguration. The imagination of the filmmakers seems unbounded, creating insane visualizations that balance on the thin line between cinematic and digital art.  Their film is a welcome guest at Leiden Shorts 2019 and a well-deserved nominee for the Best European Fantastic Short at Imagine Film Festival 2019. 

The peculiar thing about Facelift is that it does not present any coherent or definite subtext, but such a moralistic goal would have spoiled all the fun of the playful attempt to capture who or what we think we are. And what the film shows is that, after all, the image that we have of ourselves does not have to correspond with the talking heads that we actually are. Consequently, a myriad of associative correlations becomes imaginable between our own subjective universe, the entire cosmos and all of the suggested alternatives.  Facelift launches us into entirely new realms of understanding of our present positions in urban spaces, cyberspace or actual space. Ultimately, the film vividly refreshes our view on ourselves through a masterful eclecticism of different media forms and technologies, glued together by the batshit crazy thoughts we all have, but for which we need filmmakers to shamelessly articulate. 

Mitchell van Vuren; recently graduated Media student; independent filmmaker; huge film snob. Spellbound by: Pulp Fiction, Endless Poetry and A Fistful of Dollars. General state of the spotless mind: Rebel without a Cause and In the Mood for Love.