For Roger Ebert and many other serious film critics, A Woman Under the Influence is its director’s (John Cassavetes) masterpiece. The later, considered as the pioneer of American Independent movies and the father of Cinéma vérité has directed a daring piece about American sociology and human behaviors. Starring Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands as Mabel Longhetti and one of the director’s closest friend Peter Falk as Mabel’s spouse Nick, it represents a dysfunctional family where the mother and the father are mentally ill.
Like every Cassavetes film starring Gena Rowlands, she portrays its writer/director character. Rowlands’ presence is almost haunting in its overportraying of the sick Mabel who is asked to act and play happy, generous, the good mother, etc. Until her mental state gets her into a mental hospital for six months where they give her electro schocks and all kinds of other treatments. Cassavetes’ mise en scène reminds us how cinema is about life and nothing else. His long takes and almost absent montage give an aspect of reality and a documentary-like angle to his visual storytelling. Even if wrongly accused of long improvisations, just like Jean-Luc Godard, both directors always wrote their films and tried to replicate reality and situations they actually lived. Just like Godard’s dialogues in his Anna Karina (Une femme est une femme, Pierrot le fou) era where he shot entire scenes of his life with her. He wrote dialogues that replays every word of his last night’s dispute with his wife of the time; Karina. In this state of mind, Roger Ebert supposed that A Woman Under the Influence pictured moments of Cassavetes’ life and represented situations that happened to him. It is difficult to prove if this affirmation is right or wrong but the scenes and moments of this film seem to represent the elements of real life and they don’t feel to be generic or conventional Hollywood melodrama moments. They are also complex situations where we feel that the family is way more scarced that only Mabel’s illness. At some point, Nick is also lost and seem to be completely alone in his world when he let his kids drink beer with him. This is not the kind of film that Hollywood would like to release on Christmas day. But it probably represents more American families than we would hope it does.
The films of John Cassavetes have never been that much appealing to me but I wanted to at least discover them to complete my evergoing quest (They Shoot Pictures’ 1000 Greatest Films). Also because A Woman Under the Influence is now standing amongst the list of the masterpieces of Cinema by Mediafilm since June 2012. It is an interesting film to look at and having previously only watched Husbands from John Casssavetes, I can clearly say that A Woman Under the Influence is a stronger effort. Distributed personally by Cassavetes and Rowlands, it is even more impressive that this movie received all the recognition it does now. It is, however, a type of film that I admire but that hardly fell into my favourite movies. Much like an Ingmar Bergman film where the whole emotions and elements are bold and clear, a Cassavetes film is complex and dense in meaning.