John Cassavetes

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Richard Schickel

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[Faces] is, I think, a great and courageous film in which Cassavetes has dared more than any American director in recent memory, and it is important to understand the nature of what he has done. (p. 217)

[Several] qualities have led to a few dissenting dismissals of Faces as "a home movie." But this charge confuses style with substance and misses entirely the compassionate intelligence which Cassavetes—who also wrote the script—brings to his subject. He has a shrewd and highly moral vision of the special quality of affluent middle-class life in America, circa now, baby. And for all the superficial looseness of the film, he never once loses track of his point. On the contrary, he keeps boring in on it from every possible angle.

Infidelity is really only a device to heighten Cassavetes's true subject, the banality of the way too many of us live. His couple … are battered by this banality, sick, sad and tired, searching unconsciously for warmer and more human lives. Unable to define or to express what they want, each of them stumbles into potentially melodramatic situations that end up near to tragedy but nearer still to comedy.

Herein lies part of the film's originality, for customarily in our movies and plays and books infidelity is played firmly within one mode or the other. In Faces our expectations are endlessly jostled, as are those of the main characters. (pp. 217-18)

As a writer, Cassavetes has an uncanny ear for the sounds, at once funny and terrifying, that we make to fill the silent spaces in existence. As a director, he has the courage to make a long film in just eight scenes, stretching our attention spans (attenuated by TV and the voguish quick-cut style) almost to the breaking point, holding us with lovingly wrought physical details and closely observed psychological nuances. (pp. 218-19)

Do not infer that this film is dreary or depressing, no matter how it may seem in outline. Cassavetes is one of those remarkable artists who have learned to dissect us without at the same time learning to despise us. Somehow, without resort to sentiment, special pleading or falsification, he makes us share the healthily curious, oddly loving spirit in which he approaches his subjects. That is the light that illumines a dark work and which, perversely, cheers us as we emerge from a film that is truly and deeply an experience. (p. 219)

Richard Schickel, "'Faces'" (originally published in a slightly different form in Life, Vol. 66, No. 2, January 17, 1969), in his Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–1970 (copyright © 1972 by, Richard Schickel; reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation), Simon & Schuster, 1972, pp. 217-19.

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