Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Review #615: 'Husbands' (1970)

There's no doubting the film-making innovation of the pioneer of American independent cinema, John Cassavetes. But if any of his films were to be considered a stain on his CV, it would be Husbands. That is only because his filmography is so highly praised, and Husbands divided the critics between those who hailed it as one of the best films ever made, and those who found the whole experience relentlessly depressing and tediously long. I'm somewhere in the middle, finding the film occasionally dipping into awkward, slightly forced improvisations, while offering some quite distressing and powerful insights into men going through a midlife crisis.

After the death of their friend, three middle-aged men - Harry (Ben Gazzara), Gus (Cassavetes) and Archie (Peter Falk) - find it difficult to cope. We follow them over the course of two days, where they drink heavily, play basketball together, and have a boisterous singing contest with friends and family. After returning home from his binge, Harry is thrown out by his wife, and shortly after announces he is flying to London. Seemingly with nothing better to do, Gus and Archie decide to join him, where they indulge is more drinking, gambling, and womanising. Gus finds himself with a much younger woman named Mary (Jenny Runacre), who is wild and unpredictable.

In the same vein as Faces (1968), Cassavetes adopts a cinema verite style, while taking the story and characters to almost hyper-reality. This is not quite the world we live in, only it feels like it. It's a more extreme world, where everything is just a little bit more depressing and the inhabitants are always loathsome in one way or another. It's as if Cassavetes wants us to take a real look at ourselves, whoever we are, and be repulsed. Harry, Gus and Archie are despicable, taking no second thoughts when committing adultery, and ultimately being loud, angry and disgusting when in the presence of others. They are also empty, devoid of any real emotion, only finding any real solitude in each other's company.

Judging from the title, Cassavetes uses the film to summarise a broad idea as to why men must go through this at some point in their life. The trio are little more than wild children, only with sexual experience, and the camera, as usual, is close, capturing the slightest facial movement, almost to the point of infringement. It's a depressing, brutal experience, where scenes go on for much longer than they should, making us want to get away from these characters. But maybe that's the point, and Cassavetes takes it to the extreme to push his point across. The final scene is certainly worth the wait however, managing to depict a character in one simple close-up as both tragic and pathetic.

Directed by: John Cassavetes
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Husbands (1970) on IMDb

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