Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day 263: Faces (1968) - Rank 4.5/5


"Faces" marks my first entry into John Cassavetes territory. My "film geek" friends that I consort with have attempted entry into this world before, but had lukewarm receptions to the avant-garde director's works. So I braced myself for boredom at worst and indifference at best, but was greeted with neither. Perhaps it's because I chose a film that none of my cronies had viewed, or maybe the simple explanation that Cassavetes is more my taste would be fitting, but I relished "Faces."

The film scarcely possesses the standard narrative that most cinematic works did in the late 1960's, and with a central focus on the topic of marital infidelity, it probably pushed some buttons too. It's a cinéma vérité collection of seven conversations/scenes, beginning with the end of a stint of "innocent debauchery" between businessman Richard Forst (John Marley) and prostitute Jeannie (Gena Rowlands). Richard goes home, informs his wife Maria (Lynn Carlin) that he wants a divorce, and that night, the former couple go their separate directions to find sexual happiness (Richard with Jeannie and Maria with a young hippie played by Seymour Cassel). But the more the individuals in this tale seek happiness and contentment, the more it eludes them.

The bleak analysis of the disintegration of marriage and conventional relationships in America is nothing short of hypnotic. The performances of each character range from manic to introspective and it's easy to see how Cassel and Carlin both snagged Oscar nominations for their performances. I was surprised that John Marley was not nominated though. Marley spent most of his career playing bit parts and this feels like the proverbial "role of a lifetime" for him. He certainly puts his heart into it as if it is. Without the performances of the film's four major players, the impact of "Faces" would have easily been lost, but as it stands, John Cassavetes' commentary on social dynamics in America stands out as a wonderful piece of art.

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