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DIRECTED BY: Julian Acosta, Xan Cassavetes, Gia Coppola, Ryan Heffington, Boma Iluma, , Ken Jeong, Alex Takacs
FEATURING: , Joel McHale, , Emanuela Postacchini, Chido Nwokocha
PLOT: Jane experiences love, loss, joy, and bewilderment on a road trip mapped by eight different directors.
COMMENTS: To stimulate creativity, the early Surrealists created a game where one artist would build on a previous artist’s work without seeing it. They called the game “exquisite corpse” after a sentence born of this process, a sentence which is also the first thing the viewer sees in The Seven Faces of Jane: “Le cadaver equis boira le vin nouveau.” “The exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”
Jane is an exquisite corpse, a surrealist experiment. There are overtly surreal moments, such as the garishly eccentric diner patrons laughing at Jane (Gillian Jacobs) fighting her doppelganger. But the very design—8 directors contributing to the same story blind to what the other directors are doing—leads to Jane being the same but different in each segment, highlighting the nature of character as the collaborative product of writer, director, actor, and so on. With eight different directors, there are actually eight different Janes. (Seven segments plus bookends = eight.)
Jane drops her daughter off at camp and finds herself on a bizarre and unplanned road trip. The southern California backdrop ties the film together visually. Each director showcases it differently, but from the beach to the desert to mountain trails, from Mexican street vendors to early 20th century bungalow neighborhoods, So Cal is the mainstay in this ever-fluctuating movie.
Each segment explores someone Jane could be, or could have been. Most tell stories of love and loss and identity in straightforward or dreamy ways. But the last one, “The Audition,” directed by Alex Takács (AKA “Young Replicant”), takes the story right off the rails in the best kind of way. Set in a mausoleum and a sedan on the back of a car hauler, “The Audition” uses the absurd and the surreal to prod its character’s consciousness.
Jacobs, who is a steady force throughout, continues to deliver as someone on the brink of coming undone. Seemingly no longer able to sustain all the different versions of herself, she fights, gives up, regresses, and disappears, only to become who she needs to be when it’s time to pick her daughter up from camp.
Jane has some shortcomings. The quality of the segments is uneven, and because of the brevity of each piece, there’s no time to build sympathy for any character besides Jane. It is also a disconcerting juxtaposition to have such an ordinary subject for such an experimental movie. The Seven Faces of Jane has been called a “failed experiment.” And by the standards of a mainstream movie, maybe it is. But as an experiment, at least for the Surrealists (and this is a surrealist experiment), if the exquisite corpse stimulates creativity in the artists, it’s a success.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“The problem is that most of the segments are too tied to a bland realism and narrative cliche to create the collective sense of unease and/or delightful disorientation that the surrealists prize.”–Noah Berlatsky, Chicago Reader (contemporaneous)