Faces (1968)

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A startlingly immediate and vivid vision of mid-life insecurity and hysteria. Watching just ten minutes of Faces, with its production background in mind, it’s easy to see why Cassavetes is considered the godfather of independent film in America. This aesthetic has become the standard for no-budget filmmakers around the world and the talented ones are still utilising it to revelatory ends. By putting performance and character at the forefront and sacrificing technical polish (which in itself becomes style) Cassavetes managed to rip the flesh off of drama and expose all its raw nerves with screaming fury.

While clearly made by a passionate actor, Faces still feels like the work of a fearless filmmaker. The title is so apt as the quintessential images from this film are the huge, grainy monochromatic close-ups of the actors’ faces. Cassavetes is as content just watching them react in silence or observe the other performances as he is showcasing them at fever pitch. This is the first “proper” Gena Rowlands movie I’ve seen (I enjoy The Notebook but lets face it when people discuss Gena Rowlands, it’s this era they’re talking about) and while only a fleeting presence in Faces she is one of the most magnetic and alluring things in it. John Marley is terrific too and his character feels like a prototype for the baseline concerns of Mad Men (as do all of the characters actually). The other two stand-outs are Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin. Carlin was, famously, a receptionist for Robert Altman who Cassavetes saw and spontaneously cast as his lead. Her performance is extraordinary and the scenes she shares with Cassel are constantly surprising, touching and heartbreaking.

Faces is like an intimate epic of human behaviour. It is so busy with behavioural detail and honest character beats that it feels, at times painfully, all too real. Cassavetes was speaking for an entire generation of Americans here, those who may have money and success but were nevertheless discontent and disconnected from their wants and needs. Their rebellion takes the form of frayed relationships, some of which are repaired others of which are destroyed completely. Some of the characters in this film you feel cannot be helped and are destined for a tragic end, while others seem hopeful for a bright conclusion. Cassavetes’ films are known for their unruly productions and numerous cuts of increasingly bloated lengths but Faces, even at 2+ hours, is constantly coherent and eye-widingly engaging. I can’t wait to see more.

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