John Cassavetes’ ‘Faces’ finds love in complicated places

Hollywood Soapbox logoJohn Marley’s face is one of the most memorable aspects of John Cassavetes’ exquisite Faces. We experience the serious eyes and wrinkled skin compared to the youthful beauty of Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes’ wife and muse. Marley, playing a character named Richard Forst, is older and tired of his marriage. He decides to chase after the much younger Jeannie Rapp (Rowlands) in a night of drinking, jokes and transformative conversation. To combat her husband’s fleeing for a younger woman, Maria Forst (Lynn Carlin) starts seeing a younger flame herself, perhaps more out of spite than genuine love.

Cassavetes’ film is somewhat simple, feeling more like a connected string of conversations than an actual plot. However, because of the images produced by his grainy 16mm lens, Faces takes on an artistic beauty well beyond its simplicity. Marley and Rowlands flirt and fight in front of the camera, and because everything looks like a cheap home video, there’s a certain level of authenticity achieved. Everything feels improvised, experimental and real. When someone shouts, it’s as if Cassavetes is making a documentary film about marital woes. When someone drinks and tells a joke, it’s not the product of some well-thought-out jest from a hidden screenwriter. This feels like a director hit record on a camera and had two couples build up and disintegrate in front of our eyes.

The acting is marvelously layered, especially from Marley and Carlin. Their final scenes of love and hate feel realistic and provide the film with its thesis. Faces is not a study on relationships or marriages. It’s truly the study of one relationship, one marriage. Perhaps the film says something deeper about the human condition, but because Marley and Carlin are so visceral and effective in their portrayals, they make the proceedings seem unique to their individual predicaments. This is Richard and Maria’s film; it just so happens to have parallels to the outside world.

For all the boozing and yelling, Cassavetes’ film still seems like a lot of fun. Watching Faces 45 years after its initial release is like opening a time capsule. This is when filmmakers tried different methods. This is when dialogue mattered. This is when hitting record on a camera felt revolutionary. These characters, each broken and flawed, seem like great company. They welcome us into their rowdy, messy parties and searches for deeper meaning in life. They’re just fun, people we’d love to share a drink with or have the chance to say hello to on a dreamy, boozy night.

All of these elements, including Rowlands’ unparalleled beauty and equally fine acting skill, make Faces a classic film to be experienced, a rite of passage for art house nuts. The grainy images haunt audience members, making us feel like we just popped in a home video and are devastated by what we see.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Faces

  • 1968

  • Written and directed by John Cassavetes

  • Starring John Marley, Lynn Carlin and Gena Rowlands

  • Running time: 130 minutes

  • Rated R

  • Rating: ★★★★

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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