(a discussion with berjuan)
Firstly, I loved the concept. The story revolves around disillusioned and alienated members of middle class America; a businessman contemplating his clockwork existence, an ennui-stricken housewife (or maybe she works) who seeks new meaning in her life. Essentially, they realise that they are cogs in the system yet they cannot escape. This is a very powerful theme and setting for me as Singapore is another strongly capitalistic society, and becoming one of those businessman in the future is exactly what I fear.
Also, at the moment the system breaks down for the protagonist and his wife, their marriage also dissipates because of this desire to break free from social expectations and conventions. However, we realise that because of the nature of the system, this is impossible. The protagonist attempts to qualm his desire by meeting Jeannie, but eventually, she is just a prostitute who is also trapped in the system, and is unable to help me get out of it. Simultaneously, the wife tries to bend the weight of social expectations by breaking out of it and going to a nightclub where people of her age group do not belong. Although she does progress somewhere, eventually she is unable to handle the insecurity that breaking out of such a system entails and tries to overdoes on sleeping pills.
Secondly, the camerawork was really something else. Uncomfortable zooms into faces, acrobatic handheld shots (that are never nauseating unlike Dancer in the Dark) along with a poignant and subtle sense of beauty amidst the jarring ugliness of the shot derived from its content. This is truly fantastic cinematography.
Thirdly, after watching a few interviews and reading the essays in the booklet, I have come to admire John Cassavetes greatly. The strong independence and determination he possesses in constructing his truly independent film that knocks almost everything else out of the park (even great films like Sunset Blvd.) is really something else. Somehow Cassavetes managed to escape the system and run away from the dense pretty face mould that Hollywood was about to smash him into. Cassavetes truly had the means of becoming a great Hollywood actor if he wanted to (the face mostly) but he decided to follow his heart and express ideas important to him instead.
Another thing is that he made Faces as though he was producing a play. First they began with countless readings, then countless blocking sessions and when it came to filming, it was just like the opening night of a play, except that there were now cameras. The dedication it takes to make a film this way is astounding and as someone who has dabbled in theatre, I find a role model in Cassavetes.
Fourthly, the acting was truly fantastic. Typically I do not care about acting, and I even let Visconti’s The Damned slip by (one character says a really campy line to his mother, but maybe Visconti was not used to making films in English or whatever other excuse I can think off). But in Faces, you cannot help but notice the brilliance of the acting. All the actors contribute fantastic performances of their blatantly heavily rehearsed, staged and developed characters, so much so that you suspect the actors are playing themselves, genuinely believing their characters.
Evidently, this is a fantastic film. Truly fascinating and definitely at a whole different level than Faces.