#234 Faces

(1968, John Cassavetes)

“I don’t feel like getting depressed tonight”

There have been a lot of independent arty films lately here on SvTM. We had the incomprehensible The Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky and the rather strange experimental version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice by Jan Svankmejer, and now it’s time for a serious American effort. This one’s about disintegrating marriages and the failure of the American Dream. Or something. It’s Faces, directed by Rosemary’s Baby star John Cassavetes.

Faces tells the story of Richard (John Marley) and Maria (Lynn Carlin) Forst, a married couple who turn to cheating to find happiness in their increasingly loveless marriage. Richard falls for a high class call girl named Jeannie (Gena Rowlands) while Maria spends the evening with friends and a self-professed playboy they met in a bar. Cue lots of drunken conversations and arguments. And very little else.

Cassavetes was certainly keen on telling a story in a very “real” style, with actors improvising their dialogue and with the movie not weighing itself down in frivolities like “plot”. It’s a movie that sticks a bunch of drunk people in a room, tells them to talk about stuff and films the result. Or at least so it appears. There is a plot here, but it tends to get dragged out longer than necessary and it isn’t clear if it’s achieved its goals.

The movie opens on Richard and a businessman friend visiting Jeannie’s home, where they drink and dance and talk about…nothing in particular. The conversations leap around topics, and none of them are particularly relevant to anything. It feels very much like Cassavetes got a few of his friends together, got them drunk and filmed the result. As such, we get a lot of jokes and “witty” observations that sound hilarious in characters’ heads but in reality aren’t funny in the slightest.

And of course, it’s a lot of fun watching drunk people sit and laugh hysterically at their own vastly unfunny jokes. TONS OF FUN.

When characters aren’t laughing their heads off about irrelevant things, they experience extreme mood swings that make me wonder if everybody in the movie is bipolar. If this is true, it would add a fascinating twist to the movie, but something tells me this isn’t the case.

Characters will just burst into tears, often without provocation or reason, even while sober, and occasionally heated arguments will break out only to be defused into more obnoxious laughing without any reason for the sudden friendliness. This is pure melodrama at its most absurd, and even the characters’ inebriated state doesn’t justify it.

As a result, not a single character in Faces is likeable or identifiable. Everyone comes across as generically miserable rich people with no redeeming qualities. While it certainly succeeds as a message that being wealthy and successful doesn’t necessarily make you happy or even a nice person, watching people this obnoxious for two whole hours is asking too much.

The film is also technically a little awkward. By aiming for a gritty, “realistic” style, the camera shakes all over the place and the sound design is downright awful. Because everyone’s shouting most of the time, much of the dialogue tends to distort and drown itself out. It makes the film feel actively unpleasant to watch, and I honestly have nothing good to say about the movie’s visuals or sound.

So, not that great a movie experience then. It’s dragged out, it’s obnoxious and it’s ugly. Let’s face it, I didn’t like Faces.

Starring John Marley, Gena Rowlands, Lynn Carlin, Seymour Cassel, Fred Draper, Val Avery & Dorothy Gulliver
Written by John Cassavetes
Produced by John Cassavetes & Maurice McEndree
Music by Jack Ackerman
Cinematography by Al Ruban, Maurice McEndree & Haskell Wexler
Edited by Al Ruban, Maurice McEndree & John Cassavetes

Favourite Scene: Really didn’t have one.
Scene That Bugged Me: When Jeannie brushes food into a bin and starts randomly crying with no real explanation.

Watch it if: You’re cool with two hours of drunk people telling bad jokes
Avoid it if: You’re not

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Posted on November 14, 2013, in 1960s, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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