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How to describe the face one makes - like pressing together of lips to form a straight line - when they feel sorry for a person but have no solution to offer? The kind of face that says, "sorry, mate. wish I could help." A phrase for it would also work.

  • "put up a 'sorry-ass' face" – Elian Jan 12 '16 at 18:44
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I would use commiserative.

Feeling or expressing commiseration, compassion, pity or sympathy

–from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License; via Wordnik

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The first word that came to my mind was a "sympathetic" face.

sympathetic (to/towards somebody) kind to somebody who is hurt or sad; showing that you understand and care about their problems

Oxford Learner's Dictionaries

Some actual examples from Google Books of this phrase being used:

His sympathetic face said she had a shoulder to cry on should she wish

For Want of a Fiend, by Barbara Ann Wright

Suyana couldn't hear Grace's response, but Ethan made a pained, sympathetic face.

Persona, by Genevieve Valentine

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You could consider using apologetic which means the following:

Expressing or showing regretful acknowledgement of an offence or failure: 'an apologetic smile'

[Oxford Online Dictionary]

Ha made an apologetic face that said, "Sorry, mate. wish I could help."

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Consider Compassionate.

Definition: pitying, sympathizing, showing a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

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Example from Can you tell the difference between a smiling and menacing face?

Participants search for a compassionate face among a number of critical faces, which retrains the automatic, unconscious biases towards threatening stimuli commonly shown by people with mood disorders, according to the study published in Plos One journal.

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