Friday, March 19, 2010

FACES (John Cassavetes, 1968, USA)

Scenes from a disintegrating marriage: a drunken introspection of one couple that has become two disparate people. Director John Cassevetes dispels the myth of holy matrimony with his visceral condemnation of human nature, revealing victims of sexual and emotional bondage.

Cassevetes cinema of ugly truth is captured on grainy 16mm film stock resulting in a peep show like voyeurism into a night of debauchery and desperation. The patriarch is a successful businessman married to a younger woman, a couple who have everything…except each other. The conflict begins with a seemingly innocuous dinner, the good wife serving dinner to her workaholic husband, a poisonous routine that masks an incurable malady. The conversation is dominated by prattle and canned laughter as two people talk at each other, not too each other. Soon the bickering escalates to emotional violence, and the husband demands a divorce. He flees to spend the night with a prostitute who coddles and mothers him before he once again disposes of her. But his wife has not been tranquil and she stands on her own that night, bedding a young man.

The entire film is a vast conspiracy of dialogue, as characters fill the empty spaces with words, fearing the naked silence where they may hear themselves think. Cassevetes eschews establishing shots and films mostly in medium shot and close-up, framing weary faces in wonderful compositions. He also reinforces reality and improvisation by utilizing only diageteic music. He strengthens the narrative by focusing upon the last hours of a tumultuous relationship, disgorging the character flaws and self-destructive acts into a stream of consciousness deluge. The viewer doesn’t watch FACES as much as experience it, transferring its manic energy at 24 frames per second.

Cassevetes fearless screenplay doesn’t pull punches in depicting the fallout when passion mutates into boredom. The husband’s transgression appeases his egoistic identity while the wife’s leads to a mouthful of sleeping pills. Their relationship is like a staircase, neither going up nor down, empty and devoid of life.

Final Grade: (B+)

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