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.