John Cassavetes

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Claire Clouzot

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 444

In Faces, John Cassavetes stigmatizes the American middle-aged upper-middle-class couple: in the midst of the Youth Era, someone has touched the untouchable, the unfashionable, the unsellable. Until now the fatigued adults of Faces had served as background character parts, as caricatures to be made fun of. They were, to pronounce the horrible word, parents. But Cassavetes has brought these neglected elements of society into the limelight…. (p. 31)

What matters in Faces is gestures, looks, attitudes, and small reactions in the small events of life. Richard and Maria are not particularly attractive, not particularly outstanding, not particularly picturesque. They are well-to-do people with the right home, the right job, and the proper automatism of pouring themselves a drink every day at the same hour….

Cassavetes treats them with no complacency, but with a balance of compassion and lucidity. This makes the film sometimes cruel, often moving. Cassavetes presents the people of Faces as neither good nor bad, but the way they are, showing their ridiculous, their silly, their pitiful sides. (p. 32)

If Shadows was an important landmark for the critics and the aesthetics of the American cinema, Faces is one for the American public….

For the first time, a film seems to work not for escapist reasons but for reasons of therapy. Suddenly, to watch other couples work out their differences up there on the mirror of the screen where one's own reflections are caught seems to help….

This aspect of collective exorcism in Faces is just one suggestion. But the effect of the film, the very combination of fiction and direct filming which makes people respond so readily to Faces, cannot be denied…. Without knowing anything of cinéma-vérité, they have assimilated its very principles via television watching. People are what they are on the tube: neither magnified, nor embellished, but small, pimplish, real. And so they are in Faces. (p. 34)

The goal of Faces was modest, and so is its bearing. Cassavetes's film works better as a description of a class than as a sociological explanation. The purpose of the film is neither to expose the reasons of people's behavior nor to offer formulas for their happiness but to use cinéma to show their vérité. For the first time, a film speaks to the American public of Americans, the "forgotten" ones who have committed no murders, achieved no sexual prowess, nor blown up or discovered a planet but who live, get married, settle, get bored, divorce, and die. (p. 35)

Claire Clouzot, "Reviews: 'Faces'," in Film Quarterly (copyright 1969 by The Regents of the University of California; reprinted by permission of the University of California Press), Vol. XXII, No. 3, Spring, 1969, pp. 31-5.

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