Illustration by Rebekka Dunlap
What’s in a face? This week, we invite ten writers to take part in a statuette-free celebration of what draws us to the people we can’t stop watching. Read the whole series here.
Some faces are most notable for their static, flawless beauty. The statues, if you will. The immutable perfection of their improbable architecture is in and of itself a gift to us, the unwashed, asymmetrical masses. These genetically blessed demigods walk amongst us mortals and we stare at them because we cannot help it. They are hysterical testaments to our own ridiculous biology. They are anatomical art for art’s sake. They mock us.
In the grocery store, on the street, peering out from billboards, and looking down at us from the silver screen, these faces are beautiful, always, no matter how inappropriate the circumstance. But it’s not their fault, and we know it. Oh, how we do adore them, those mobile places of worship in the flesh. They are our Kate Uptons, our Idris Elbas—the Kim Kardashians of the world.
And then there are the faces. Unlike their immutable counterpoints, the faces are never still, always brimming with capabilities and impossible pin-downs. They are all high zygomatic arches and dimpled facial musculature; they are the kind of captivating that launch ships. They are eighteen kinds of disarming plasticity, not the haute remove of gorgeous, peerless plastic. They flit in and out of their forms, each one impossible. And when I think of faces, I think of Marion Cotillard.
Cotillard is unreservedly stunning. She’s got a chin like an ice pick, slicing hard edges into full youthful cheeks flanked on their inviting uppers by cheekbones that arch high into her eyes. Her mouth is small, and her smile is wide; it’s the kind of mouth built to eat baskets of stone fruits in sunny orchards. She presents a kind of smudged flawlessness and forever looks like she is up to no good, and in the most filthy and wholesome way imaginable. But her face is never still; it doesn’t so much beam as it flickers.
Cotillard’s eyes cultivate a sense of recognition, like seeing one’s face reflected in a shallow pail of water. There’s something about being so plainly vulnerable that the actor’s face becomes just as much an external show of self as it does a deliberate blank screen, awaiting the viewer’s projection. Whether or not we are really seeing Cotillard isn’t the point; it’s that, through the alchemical gifts of her beauty and ability to show a face at its most vulgar honest, we believe that we see her. We feel safe in the pale-eyed gaze of her vulnerability, and so we, the insecure and fearful, can look at and feel our emotions through her. Like a beautiful surrogate for our burdensome emotional pregnancies.
It’s a face that’s easy to get lost in, and that she seems so content with being seen only deepens her appeal. That she is such a remarkable chameleon is one thing; that her impractical beauty shines through no matter the state is just fucking rude. Her face is the kind of infectious warmth that kisses you proudly on both cheeks after you’ve just gone in for a handshake and suddenly you’re flushed and stammering and you feel really good and why doesn’t everyone do introductions like this?
I would watch her face watch paint dry.