(John Cassavetes, USA, 1968) 130 minutes


Director: John Cassavetes
Producer: Maurice McEndree
Screenplay: John Cassavetes
Photography: Al Ruban
Editors: Al Ruban, Maurice McEndree
Music: Jack Ackerman
John Marley (Richard Forst)
Gena Rowlands (Jeannie Rapp)
Lynn Carlin (Maria Forst)
Fred Draper (Freddie)
Seymour Cassel (Chet)

Reviews and notes

Because I wrote it at a time when I thought the only free form of expression left to the actor was the stage, FACES was originally done as a play. Then I decided to do a film on my own again, avoiding any outside financial help or involvement from a major film company that might stifle the creative mind. I wanted to do a film that would allow the actors the time and room at act."
- John Cassavetes

Infinitely more calculated than Shadows, this new Cassavetes film still holds the feeling of spontaneity, of life going on unpredictably, movements unplanned, conversations disjointed and overlapping, remarks half-heard. The persuasion of it is due in no small measure to the lighting and camerawork of Al Ruban, continually on the move as if following wherever an actor might choose to lead and yet repeatedly settling into an apt composition and always seeking out the pertinent face at the right moment.

The characters are ?types?, well-heeled Americans for whom life has gone stale with the onset of middle-age. Indigenous, perhaps: yet universal in their emotions and frustrations. Being types, they make superhuman demands on an extraordinarily gifted cast; demands that are met completely, so that each character becomes a detailed and subtle individual.

A husband and wife have lost rapport after fourteen years of marriage. Chuckling together over private little jokes, sophisticated at table and corny in bed, they change moods on the instant at some trivial slight. Eventually they seek companionship elsewhere. The man is consoled by an attractive whore not very bright of mind but extremely touchy and quick with her indignation. The wife goes hunting with some other married women and fetches home from a discotheque a solitary amoralist, whose chirpy lack of inhibitions is allied to a charitable instinct: a modification of the idealised nomads in the plays of Tennessee Williams.

Long winded the film may be (indeed is) but its truth is undeniable, even when it arrives at something akin to romanticism: a germ of hope to buffer the stark emptiness of the coda. This affirmative sequence that inclines toward the romantic is still expressed in realistic terms, more stark than anything else in the movie: the amoralist, waking to find that the woman has attempted suicide, does not make good his escape but stays on in the house to do what he can for her. He can do enough. The process is unsparing: several times his fingers are thrust down her throat before he can bring her to vomit. Superbly and movingly done, the thing is followed by a lifelike switch to humour: the husband arrives home and the younger man hares away half-naked across the rooftop.

A good deal of the movie is funny, in fact: not so much at the expense of the characters themselves, but as a rebuke to the conventions that have ruled their shallow lives. Face-saving has been a motive force and still is, yet the faces reveal none of the dignity to which they aspire. The prostitute?s out-of-town clients, who must be endured by the husband until he can get the girl to himself, indulge in self-boosting chat of a kind to which he is so well accustomed that he can match them point for point. He can also scrap with one of them when the chat gets out of hand.

As to the quartet of frustrated women, each ogling the catch of the evening, each trying in her own inadequate way to be enticing, save for the hostess who retains her bitter distance, half-hoping that her turn will come: this morsel of desperate suburbia is very shrewdly balanced between mirth and compassion, reaching its most daring point when the least provocative and oldest of the women virtually begs the sexy young man to kiss her and, in his charitable way, he olbliges. Suddenly and episode that was no funnier than it needed to make its psychological mark, has become infinitely sad and genuinely moving. Dorothy Gulliver, as the most predatory and desperate of the group, gives a beautiful performance: but then, so does everybody in the cast.

FACES is a work of great talent. Its flaw is merely the familiar one of the artist too close to his own work to judge best where a sequence might be curtailed to advantage: thus, in portraying boredom for example, Cassavetes is now and then in danger of being just a bit of a bore. A small flaw, in the circumstances. Preferable by far to the committee-planned movie that blinkers reality in its anxiety to hold our attention. One feels bound to note the flaw because it?s there, but one forgives it wholeheartedly in a film which merges art and life to near-perfection, and which manages at one and the same time to be both critical and compassionate.
- Gordon Gow, Films and Filming, December 1968.

Weblink: Review by Roger Ebert

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