There is something cathartic in Cassavetes' films, in how he gives his audience tough love, a kind of love that scrapes off any inessential, false emotion. He loves us enough to show us new things -- he gives us gifts he wants us to use. He is just as much interested in OUR emotional truth as that of his characters, a physical filmmaker who wants us to experience his film bodily, so scenes go on for lengths unseen in a Hollywood film.
It's a common thing to label Cassavetes' films as cinema verite, and while that makes sense in terms of the feeling of spontaneity, Cassavetes' composition is sometimes unparalleled; it is very intelligently used and deserves to be examined. The camera has a vitality of its own -- it is not used as a character, but it is absolutely essential as film (unlike the claims that Cassavetes is uncinematic), weaving in and out, capturing images that gain a new significance, yet are never highlighted or indicated. There is one image of such beauty in the film that it's stayed with me for weeks: after Gazzara tells Cassavetes that he loves him and Falk more than his wife, we see Gazzara's face from the side, just slightly out of focus. Like Bergman, Cassavetes is a poet of the human face. Like Dreyer, his film, and his characters, are utterly sincere. That sincerity can be off-putting to people who prefer a barrier between them and their art, who need a distance. Cassavetes doesn't believe in that.
Watching the film, I was overcome with this feeling, not from the intense emotions of the characters (though that is important) but from the presence of the film itself. You watch it and you realize the truth and the greatness of it, stripped bare of any trickery, any cinematic evil: mockery, stereotypes, clichés, "answers." To call Cassavetes a truthful artist is itself a cliché, but watching this, you're in the presence of genius. Not in the way we normally think of genius, and that's its earth-shattering effect: this is the closest thing to soul on film. It's far too easy and too glib to view this as sledgehammer acting -- there are such subtleties and profound realizations of emotional truth that you will have a hard time watching Dustin Hoffman or men of his ilk after seeing this. (Nick's acting is a sore spot -- showing off for pop.) Very few actors have more to give than these three men.
Nothing in the movie is expected. Every cliché is turned on its head, but it's not merely the opposite of expectation: it's something new. (Where else have you seen a sex scene like THAT?) We hear statements like "don't believe truth!" "from the heart!" "too cute!" The tone of the film changes innumerably, silently. The only dubious aspect of the film is in how we're made to almost root for the husbands as they frolic in England without their wives. If it makes any sense, I think Cassavetes cures himself from any charges of misogyny by bringing out the femininity in his males -- the brotherly love goes so far beyond the accepted roughhousing and backslapping into something so pure, so loving, that it could only be feminine. You begin to understand Cassavetes' code of men in a real, physical way. I can't push it home enough: you FEEL it. 10/10