John Cassavetes' fourth feature, “Faces,” is one of those films.
Released in 1968, “Faces” arrived almost a decade after the director's feature debut of “Shadows” and in a few ways it feels like Cassavetes attempting to expound or perhaps even refine what he was going for with that film. There is a similar tone and vibe that permeates both films. His camera work that was so experimental and innovative in “Shadows” has been perfected and tweaked. Cassavetes is still mostly interested in capturing the essence of his actors and their characters rather than necessarily providing us with depth through exposition. The dialogue in “Shadows” was entirely improvised by its actors, and while “Faces” was scripted but it retains a similar sort of spontaneous vibe.
Such an approach is interesting and, to be sure, a challenge. The problem is that it results in a film that simply isn't very interesting.
“Faces” probes into the lives of Richard Forst (John Marley, perhaps best known as Woltz, the movie producer from “The Godfather” who ends up with a horse head in his bed) and his wife, Maria (Lynn Carlin).
They're a wealthy, affluent couple who have become utterly bored with each other. Their malaise has infected their lives so fully that Richard wants a divorce.
The film is essentially split into halves, the first focusing on Richard and Jeannie and the second on Maria and Chet. I just wish I found either half engaging.
There are moments when it grabbed me. Those moments usually came at the tail end of interminably long stretches of dialogue and conversation about, well, nothing in particular (or at least memorable). But after slogging through such uninteresting and banal talk (which is part of the point, I suppose), Cassavetes will cut to an extreme closeup of Richard or Jeannie or Maria and for a brief moment we get a stark, unguarded look into the desperate soul of these characters. It's admittedly an impressive feat, both on the part of Cassavetes and his actors. It's just frustrating that the build to it left me so cold.
The technique and craft on display, however, is still intriguing and worth studying, though, I will say. Cassavetes' and his actors found a way to make scripted dialogue sound spontaneous and unrefined. There's also still no one better at using a handheld camera to make the audience feel like they're smack in the middle of a volatile group of people than the man who essentially invented the technique. Is there a director who has a better handle on how and when to use a close-up shot? Perhaps not.
I'm curious to revisit this. I kind of don't like “Faces” but I'm intrigued enough by what Cassavetes was going for that I'm curious what revisiting it later on might reveal to me.
Next week I'll review “A Woman Under the Influence” starring Peter Falk.