A Woman Under the Influence (Cassavetes, 1974)


After seeing one feature, Shadows, I was reluctant to watch Cassavetes a second time, in spite of @Vahn ‘s constant praise. I didn’t feel much while watching Shadows, and I could sense that his perception of reality did not align with my own. His style of filmmaking did not seem right to me, and, after watching A Woman Under The Influence, I still hold this to be true. That said, I can appreciate his style for what it is, and I recognize the film for what it so masterfully accomplishes.

My issue with Cassavetes, and I may be premature saying this, is that his movies are essentially filmed theater. They are dramatic, utilize close-ups, and focus on characters and dialogue. A large bulk of the film could quite easily be rendered as a theatrical performance with nothing lost. Matter of fact, what is most impressive in the film are the incredible performances of Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk. This is not a critique, but a personal reflection.

As a film director, Cassavetes doesn’t utilize the medium to its fullest potential, which would be to communicate something with cinema that would go otherwise untold . He has a story to tell, and he has lines of dialogue recited and scenes played out in order to do this. The film communicates on a rational and emotional level, opting to search for concrete realism. On the surface, this is not problematic, but I find myself becoming detached during some scenes, such as the spaghetti dinner, when rigid cuts give way to candid action and drama—at times overdrawn.

In some instances, and particularly in the second half of the film, Cassavetes does channel a more sensitive rhythm. Some scenes that come to mind are when Mabel dances to Swan Lake with the children in the backyard, when she puts up her dukes while facing Nick and the doc in a pre-hospitalization showdown, and when Nick’s negligence gets a coworker injured. Due to these scenes and others like it, the more rigid theatrical scenes carry a greater weight than they would otherwise. The result is a cinema of accumulation, in the vein of montage. As the emotional turbulence rises from scene to scene, and the audience associates drama with character, the film consolidates a force of energy finally erupting in Nick’s climactic slap to throw Mabel to the floor.

88/100 – Excellent

4 Stars


About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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