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Richard Forst has grown old. One night, he leaves his wife for Jeannie Rapp, a young woman who does not like friendship. Meanwhile, Richard's wife, Maria, is seduced by Chet, a kind young man from Detroit... A film about the meaningless of life for a certain kind of wealthy middle-aged people. Written by
Faces is a torrid story of what people do when they're in fractured relationships, and, really, what a lot of lives are really like out there. What Faces offers just on its own as a character based drama is almost enough to see what the director is all about. No big budget, no fake sets, just people on the screen who have real personalities and histories with each other, and conflicts that are given enough light to get an idea of what they're about. But what is given, shot in a grainy 16mm feel by Cassavetes, using mostly theater actors (and Cassavetes's wonderful wife Gena Rowlands), are compelling enough to stay with them, through their flaws and difficulties with one another, and through this we get a look into their small world.
Film-making like this is rare, where the director- also as writer- can work with so little to provide so much emotionally for a viewer. It's definitely a certain kind of world shown, of New Yorkers with relationship crises and psychological complexes that may go a bit beyond some viewer's expectations. That how they communicate is so raw is also a little unnerving at times, and some scenes deserve to be seen twice to grasp everything that's going on.
But Faces, for all its moments of improvisation, is a work that is alive, because it has characters who question their own excesses and escapes while not being able to really escape them. There's adultery, alcohol, an overdose, and lots of talking at times. But there's also moments of true compassion, and reality that likely could be found in few exceptions of films at the time it was made (especially about the middle class). And at times what the filmmaker gets us to feel for these completely imperfect and almost damaged people (underneath their middle class side) is a bit shattering. Take the scenes involving Seymour Cassel and the woman he's found in the morning unable to really wake up. This whole set of events as he tries to wake her up is a true knockout kind of cinema, where there's no pretense between what is being shown on the screen and what the audience is receiving. Arguably, there are at times scenes that feel nearly too theater-based, as if we might as well see this on an off-Broadway production.
But in this kind of independent film, where there really aren't limits, Cassavetes is interested in characters and situations that Hollywood would just take as stereotypes or more conventional forms. And with the professionals like John Marley, Rowlands, Cassel, and especially Lynn Carlin (who along with Cassel got richly deserved Oscar nominations), Cassavetes at times just lets his script go with them and the conviction they bring is, at times, shocking. This is the sort of film that influenced Scorsese, though his style has also influenced a good chunk of what are American independent films, where the limits of budget, time, and Hollywood perks like staged sets and special effects, can sometimes be used for an advantage with a good enough script and cast. To put it mildly, I can't wait to see this film again.
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