Faces, 1968

Richard (John Marley) goes into the screening room of his office where female assistants attend to him – coffee, cigarettes, whatever he needs. He is the CEO of a powerful financial institution, and his latest investment is a movie. The film title momentarily flashes Faces, and that is all the introduction the venerable improvisational director, John Cassavetes, will need in order to present his film. There are no opening credits in the film, perhaps because the film is about all humanity, and the actors are merely surrogate faces for our own emotional purgatory. Faces follows an evening in the lives of Richard and Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin), a couple who, after fourteen years of marriage, is at a relational crossroads. Richard meets Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), a beautiful 28 year-old professional escort (who claims to be 23) in a bar, and a mutual attraction develops. He arranges a meeting, but she does not keep the appointment, keeping company instead with a client who sees her more as a psychotherapist than a pleasurable diversion. Richard goes to her house, where he first antagonizes, then befriends, her client. Meanwhile, his wife Maria goes to a nightclub with some friends, and ends up taking Chet (Seymour Cassel), an aging playboy, home. Empty words, forced laughter, and loud music suffuse the atmosphere of both houses. As in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup, these distractions are futile attempts to fill a deeper void within their soul. Every character in the film harbors emotional wounds. Their fundamental need to love, argue, dance, or laugh are all helpless cries for validation (note a similar, although not as bleak, effect achieved in Mike Leigh’s Naked). Cinematically, Cassavetes uses several panning and zooming shots that appears as if the camera is wandering or “chasing” a potential action. This is not a consequence of improvisation. Rather, it is a means of reflecting, not only the characters’ restlessness, but also their desperate attempts to cling to anything or anyone who may rescue them from the pain of their empty, privileged existence. Then, with the advent of a new day, as a tenuous reconciliation seems to be forming through a series of morning rituals, the closing credits roll – finally associating the actors’ names with the characters they portray. In essence, validating them.

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