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Robert Bailey
Robert Bailey

A Woman Under The Influence(1974)

A Woman Under the Influence is a 1974 American drama film written and directed by John Cassavetes. The story follows a woman (Gena Rowlands) whose unusual behavior leads to conflict with her blue-collar husband (Peter Falk) and family.[2] It received two Academy Award nominations, for Best Actress[3] and Best Director.[4]

A Woman Under the Influence(1974)

Six months later, Nick plans a large surprise welcome home party for Mabel's return from the institution. However, his mother points out that this may be overwhelming for her. Nick overreacts by sending off all of the non-family guests with screams and shouts. When Mabel arrives, she is apprehensive and quiet, in great contrast to her former outgoing and eccentric personality. Nick tries to make her feel comfortable, but to no avail. The evening degenerates in yet another emotional and psychologically taxing event for Mabel. She reveals she underwent electroshock therapy in the mental hospital and becomes increasingly distraught.

And consider the welcome that Nick stages for Mabel on her return from the institution. It is strained in countless ways, but underneath everything is the sense of an actress returning to reclaim the role she made her own, in a long-running play. She may be well, she may still be ill, but the people in her life are relieved that at least she is back, taking up the psychic space they are accustomed to her occupying. A dysfunctional family is not a non-functional family; it functions after its fashion, and in its screwy routine there may even be a kind of reassurance.

there's a scene towards the end, where peter falk takes gena rowlands hand and puts it under the cold faucet water. it's bleeding and hurt and a little inflamed. he's not particularly gentle with her, ignoring as she winces in pain. he grabs a bandaid and slaps it on. he cannot tell her that he loves her.

I immediately thought of an often-used Marxist concept explaining how the insanity experienced by characters in both films could brew in the first place: social reproduction, a delineation of roles each person must hold in society, based on their demographic precondition. This concept is extremely important when talking about feminist theory, since women and marginalized genders are often trapped so much under social reproduction especially under reproductive labor. Social reproduction is also, in the end, what gives birth to class inequality.

Even the presentation of Mabel reunited with her children after six months is not intended to garner any sympathy for her character. She is once again framed in a close-up, but the visual composition of the shot and the prevailing mood of the scene is much softer, a combination of an out-of-focus image and quiet whispers between mother and children. We are able to see the tears pooling at the corners of her eyes and eventually streaming down her face, but more importantly, this close-up allows us to recognise the difficulty that Mabel is having in her attempt to suppress her emotions and keep her composure under the stressors that lie in wait on the other side of the glass sliding doors.

In the cases of physicality in place of verbal communication in the film, the explanation is hardly abstract; every emotion can, in fact, be physically expressed. Mabel endures each day in suffering as a result of the inability or unwillingness of others to accept the ways in which she instinctively expresses herself. As she waits for her children at the bus stop, twice in a row she is refused the time because two strangers have impulsively formed the assumption that she is insane based on non-existent evidence. Therefore, it is not so unbelievably farfetched when she brings a razorblade to her wrists out of frustration and when she enters a trance, becoming unresponsive to those around her out of the desire to be alone. Likewise, Nick is not necessarily quick to resort to violence in such situations, he simply understands that verbally pleading for Mabel to immediately stop whatever she is doing is an ineffective means of communication.

The story is about a Los Angeles housewife and mother (Gena Rowlands) whose unusual behavior leads to fighting with her blue-collar husband (Peter Falk) and family. Mabel (Gena Rowlands) loves her construction-worker husband Nick and badly wants to please him, but the bizarre mannerisms and increasingly odd behavior she displays has him worried. She has become a threat to herself and others, he reluctantly sends her to an institution, where she undergoes treatment for six months.

I don't think audiences are satisfied any longer with just touching the surface of people's lives; I think they really want to get into a subject. Marriage, like any partnership, is a rather difficult thing. And it has been taken rather lightly [in the movies]. Family life is so different than what has been fed into us through the tube and through radio and through the casual, inadvertent greed that surrounds us. Films today show only a dream world and have lost touch with the way people really are. For me it's the first real family I've ever seen on screen. Idealized screen families generally don't interest me because they have nothing to say to me about my own life. Usually we put film in such simple terms while being endlessly involved in talking about our personal experience. We admit how complex it is. But it's as though we never look into a mirror and see what we are. So the films I make really are trying to mirror that emotion, so we can understand what our impulses are why we do things that get us into trouble, when to worry about it, when to let them go. And maybe we can find something in ourselves that is worthwhile.

There's a lot I don't understand. If I say we're gonna make a picture and we don't know what we're doing, I'm absolutely straight when I say that. I don't think that Gena has any idea when she comes on the set that she's going to be able to break down, have a commitment scene, be frightened when she comes in. I see her when I come home at night and I see her on the bed with the script and I see her going over it and thinking about it and relating to everything and preparing herself and asking me questions. I mean, Gena reads this script and she takes and interprets that woman as someone that is innocent. That's not my interpretation. That's not in the script. You could interpret it as a person that fights it. She interprets it as someone that's innocent. She's crazy, but she's shy, too, really. She's not an outward person really. She's outward because she thinks she's supposed to be. She wants to please somebody. Gena has a lot of consideration for the character and the woman behind the character. She tries never to vulgarize or caricature people she's playing. She really resisted turning Mabel into a "victim" or a "case" or a "feminist." That was her insight.

O. G. Dunn (who plays Garson Cross) was uncertain how he was supposed to play his scenes. He practically begged Cassavetes to give him an action or a feeling to play. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Cassavetes to have said something like, "You're a gentle, polite man; you're not a brute, so you're not going to force it; but you would like to sleep with this woman; and she did invite you home, so you think she probably wants to do it; but she is a woman, and you have had woman problems in the past. So you are not sure what she expects . . ." That's the explanation a thousand other directors would have given to actors in similar situations. But it was the sort of answer Cassavetes almost never gave. According to a crew member who watched the whole exchange, what happened was closer to the following:

These are fairly minor cases. Cassavetes' treatment of Rowlands and Falk is a textbook example of the use of psychology to massage souls and spirits. His relationship with Rowlands was extremely rocky at times (to the extent that at one point he told her he would never work with her again). Rowlands on her part felt lost at moments and desperately in need of help, which Cassavetes seemed at times deliberately to withhold. Prior to shooting the homecoming scene, Rowlands pleaded with her husband for guidance. It was months into the shoot; she was tired and confused; more than information, what she probably needed was a little reassurance. Cassavetes not only refused to provide it but undermined what little confidence she had left with the coldness and distance of his response. She wanted to be calmed down; he did everything possible to work her up.

All through that homecoming scene I was astounded by what was underneath people, what these actors had gathered in the course of this movie. And I was way behind them. I was staggered because Gena was so quiet and mild. She wasn't hostile at all. I started yelling because I thought she was acting so the audience would like her, but I was wrong. She was expressing fear, which separated her from the people she loved. At the moment when Nick's mother, Mabel's enemy, subtly changes her approach in the most malicious way, just at the moment when the audience is hoping that Mabel is going to get out of there, Mabel stays so tender. She wants to stick with her family to the very end. If she'd come back from the asylum with hate in her heart, the film couldn't finish the way it does.

Gena's interpretation showed me how frightened Mabel was. As a matter of fact, when we looked at the dailies, Gena said, "What do you think? I'm at a loss, did we go too far?" And I said, "I didn't like it, I just didn't like it at all." I mean, I found it really embarrassing to watch. It was such a horrible thing to do to somebody, to take her into a household with all those people after she'd been in an institution, and their inability to speak to this woman could put her right back in an institution, and yet they were speaking to her, and Gena wanted to get rid of them and at the same time not insult them. But then I thought what Gena did was like poetry. It altered the narrative of the piece. The dialogue was the same, but it really made it different. I would grow to love those scenes very, very much, but the first time I didn't. The film really achieved something really remarkable through the actors' performances, not giving way to situations but giving way to their own personalities. 041b061a72

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