A Woman Under the Influence ★★★★½

Hate repeating old party lines on Letterboxd (is there anything more pointless than 100 reviews that all say “X actor really gives his/her all!”?), but must admit how much I’m struck by the control of Cassavetes’s camera in every scene; the incorrectly assumed improvisation is really the work of a master. What is more striking is that most of the important visual information is often teetering on the edges of the frame. One really great example is when Mabel goes to the bar. On the bottom of the frame, her hand pops in and out just enough so we can glimpse her ring finger. The hand goes away just as the bartender replaces that part of the image with the glass of ice which will soon be filled with whiskey. This is Cassavetes’s main aesthetic gambit, as he often plays with our ability to desire to see what is just outside the image of his camera, holding it for tension (right before the spaghetti scene blows up, there’s a moment where you can just see Rowland’s face in soft focus and she looks like she might cry; the camera keeps hinting at her presence but never fully reveals it). In this way, the Dardennes actually feel like JC’s true spiritual successor in the way they composed 360 worlds with very precise framing that speaks to their materiality and gives way to the emotional power. For all his recent horrible actions, Ray Carney’s book on Cassavetes covers the rest better than I can: the lack of a precise teleology to Mabel’s sickness, the fantastic narrative structure and use of very key ellipses, the very very careful slipping of exposition, the working through of gender roles, and the tightrope between the comic absurd and the deeply unsettling (something I think Elaine May takes to an even more extreme in Mikey and Nicky). Also, those child performances are absolutely amazing, and had me curious to when child acting began changing from the pretty bad stuff throughout almost all of the studio period (example: I love Lang’s The Big Heat, but god damn that kid is way too precocious) and into the stuff we get here and in Paper Moon.

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