One of the big complaints I have about “independent” film today is that it’s hardly distinguishable from studio filmmaking. This is a world where The Artist (2011, dir. Michel Hazanavicius), 12 Years a Slave (2013, dir. Steve McQueen), and The Birth of a Nation (2016, dir. Nate Parker) are considered independent cinema. Now, before you start throwing complaints my way, know that I understand “independent” solely means these films were funded independent of the studio system. But, as I recall, so was Avatar (2012, dir. James Cameron), and I doubt anyone in their right mind would call it an “indie.” Now, I hardly have an answer for this problem — after all, at what point is your film no longer an “indie”? Is it at a million dollars? A hundred thousand? Ten thousand? Are you only an “indie” if you spend no money and everyone involved is a non-professional?
Thus we come to the subject of this review: John Cassavetes 1968 drama Faces. This wasn’t Cassavetes’ first film, but it is still fairly early in his career, and somehow it is clearly an independent film. Cassavetes has been called the father of independent cinema, and I think the title is an apt one. Cassavetes’ cinema is clearly rough around the edges, made on the fly, and straight from the heart. Most every shot appears to be handheld, sometimes the sound quality is a bit sketchy, and much of the dialogue seems improvised on the spot. This film is intensely raw and incredibly honest.
The images and the way everything is photographed screams of an intimate setting of creative inspiration and improvisation. The film was, from all appearances, shot by available light, meaning certain “sensitive” film stocks had to be used which resulted in sometimes extremely grainy and rough looking images. Sometimes the focus misses just a bit and the images is a tad soft. All of this adds up to the rough visual quality Faces seems to revel in. This movie is a visual treat, which seems counterintuitive since it isn’t technically perfect, and yet there is beauty to be found in imperfection.
Across the board this film features incredible and beautiful performances. Humor pours out in the right moments, sadness follows, heartbreak, and then back to humor and fun. It runs the gambit. The plot primarily follows a man, Richard (John Marley), and his wife Maria (Lynn Carlin), as their marriage crumbles to pieces and they fall into the arms of others. It’s truly heartbreaking to watch and witness and its in these moments when the emotions ramp up and flip-flop between humor and heartbreak. Richard falls into the arms of a younger woman that might be a prostitute and his wife into the arms of a smooth talking younger man. It’s a complete disaster, which should totally be expected.