Faces

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #252: John Cassavetes’ Faces.

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I think, maybe, that the correct reaction [at least in terms of the reaction Cassavetes was aiming for] to Faces is supposed to be loathing. It is a long, torturous journey through the darkest parts of married adult life, and there are no redeeming qualities to any of the characters that I can see. Granted, there is perseverance and forthrightness, but it only serves to feed the destructive paths all the characters tread.

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There is a basic tendency in chemistry that liquids and gases flow from areas of higher density to lower density; hypo- to hyper-. This tendency holds true in Faces as well, but with the addition of human instinct and intent; a dangerous combination. Dickie, Louise, Chet, Jeannie, everyone feels emptied of meaning or fulfillment, yearning for the days of their youth, or the golden years the never existed. Florence is probably the best example of this in the film; old, dumpy and desperate, she throws herself at Chet and begs to be kissed, anything to feel a bit alive again.

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The forced, raucous laughter, the endless drinking and smoking, the chiaroscuro lighting and staccato improvisational dialogue effectively force the viewer to face their inner disaffectation while the characters onscreen continually manage to avoid this very confrontation. My mother watched most of this with me, and she talked about how tragic everyone seemed. She didn’t know which would be worse, whether Dickie and Maria split apart or stuck it out together in the end. She expected a suicide, but made no mention of murder, so while she didn’t state it explicitly, I think she caught on to the fact that everyone is far too self-centered-obsessed to consider harming anything other than themselves.

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So while I still never really want to see Faces again, I guess I have a respect for it now. It is a passion play with no pulled punches, frank and uncompromising. True to Cassavetes’ form there is little flash and glitter, only true to life experiences, most of which, in this film, deal with the seamier side of things.

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Criterion Essay by Stuart Klawans.
Ron Carney on Faces.
Strictly Film School review.
• Senses of Cinema article.
• A few scenes from Faces on YouTube 1, 2, 3.