Faces review by Tom Blain

My introduction to the work of John Cassavetes was his low budget, realist debut Shadows. Aproximately 10 years and 2 films had passed between Shadows and Faces but there are some striking technical similarities between the two. Faces is shot in 16mm black and white (in 1968, very uncommon), which gives it a gritty, grainy feel. Even the movements of the camera are choppy, like a documentary. As Gena Rowlands mentions in one of the extras, the characters are free to move within the scene and are free from moving back and forth between marks. The script itself is free flowing to the point of rambling in between scene moving statements. The film does not come across as clean and gilded, it comes across as authentic and improvised (however, I should note that unlike Shadows, Faces was not improvised).

Faces deals with the disintegration of a suburban, middle-aged couples marriage. The film joins Richard Forst (John Marley), an executive, and his wife Maria (Lynn Carlin) during the peak of the troubles. The marriage hasnt all of a sudden come crashing down in one day. Through the characters there is a feeling that the marriage has eroded over time. There are still moments of tenderness that recount better days, but when the dialogue cuts it cuts Richard and Maria deep. Essentially, Richard is bored with his wife and prefers to cavort with an escort named Jeanie (Gena Rowlands). Its a mid-life crisis Cassavetes style. After a big fight that leads to Richard asking for a divorce, Maria decides its time for her to look elsewhere and goes out to a go-go bar with her friends. She very silently, and conservatively allows her and her friends to be picked up and seduced by a younger, blond, energetic gigolo Chet (Seymour Cassell).

Both Richard and Maria find momentary solace in another. Richard seeks out Jeanie at whatever hour in the morning to stay at her place, even though she is entertaining some other gentlemen. Richards growing affection for Jeanie is both awkward and sad. While there is chemistry between the two, and definitely some reciprocated love from Jeanie, the films rawness amplifies the age and lifestyle discrepancy between the two. Yes, there is some sweetness between the two but its obvious that Jeanies love is also good business.

Maria on the other hand, seems to be delving into an affair for the first and only time with free styling Chet. Her emotions towards the marriage split are more volatile and she even harms herself by attempting to overdose on sleeping pills. Obviously since she is the aging (yet still attractive) housewife there are fewer options for her. Luckily for her Chet, the existential goofball, is also heroic and saves her when he could have simply run off.

There is something to be said for the vague title of the movie, Faces. Cassavetes uses a lot of extreme closeups on the faces of the characters and holds the closeup while they are talking, while they are listening, etc. These cloesups reveal as much about each character as the dialogue in the film; sometimes more. Some characters like Maria, sit silently, conservatively and absorb the action around them. These closeups often reveal something they arent saying, or something that goes against what they do say. They reveal fragility and weakness in a strong business man like Richard or the vulnerability in Maria.

In watching Faces I couldnt help but think of some of the films and filmmakers that were probably inspired by Cassavetes masterpiece. Kubricks final film Eyes Wide Shut shared a somewhat common theme, and even detailed a city like exploration into cheating (much like Maria and Richard), although Kubricks tale was a bit colder. These days, because of camera movement and character depth, Im thinking more of Noam Baumbach and recently Margot at the Wedding; a movie I didnt care for because of the main character.

Faces is not as raw as Shadows but is every bit as experimental and groundbreaking. The film is true independent before Mirimax came around as Cassavetes and Rowlands put up most of the money to make it themselves. For their efforts the film received 3 Oscar nominations (writing and both supporting actor and actress). It gets the gold medal treatment from Criterion Collection in a two-disc setup with film and plenty of extras talking about the making of the film and revealing an alternate film introduction.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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