A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
February 14, 2016 3:30 PM - Subscribe

John Cassavetes' devastating drama details the emotional breakdown of a suburban housewife and her family's struggle to help her. Starring Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands as a married couple deeply in love yet unable to express that love in terms the other can understand, the film is an uncompromising portrait of domestic turmoil.

Hmm, a gutting portrait of mental instability and domestic turmoil? That's right, the Criterion On Hulu club is back, baby!

Next week, we're doing Colossal Youth, a meditation on the aftermath of Portugal's Carnation Revolution and its consequences for the country's poverty-stricken Cape Verdean immigrants. Other upcoming fims:

February 28: Paris Belongs to Us
March 6: Solaris (Tarkovsky)
March 13: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
March 20: 8 1/2
March 27: Closely Watched Trains
April 3: Ikiru

If you have a Criterion film you'd like to recommend, feel free to suggest it in the CoH 2016 thread.
posted by Ian A.T. (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Cassavetes is my favorite director, so I feel like I have so much to say that I don't know what to say. So to just say one thing-- If you haven't seen this and think it sounds too heavy, please consider that this film is about exactly the situation that we've discussed here so thoroughly about emotional labor and the way that differing socialization for men and women impacts relationships.

If you rely on the popular synopses for this film, you will expect to see Mabel as simply a "mad" woman ruining an otherwise stable relationship. But Cassavetes was a great humanist and one of his favorite topics was the blurry line between madness and sanity, and Rowlands did not approach the character as simply mad when playing it. I think that, wonderfully, we have a more advanced understanding of women's issues and lives than most people cared to have in the 1970's, and we have a more nuanced view of mental health as well. It's easier now to see the story from her perspective, as a unique, whole person, who has foibles and joy and wants to share the wonders of the world with her family and friends. Nick wants to reach out to her and do the right thing, but he doesn't know how, and he doesn't understand what she's going through most of the time. The film lays the question of sanity on him too.

We are very fortunate in that Cassavetes and his regular cast members were smart, committed actors who were very open about their process. There's a great deal of footage out there in which they discuss their films with depth and breadth--in particular, A Constant Forge is an excellent four-hour documentary. And if you like this film, I think that Love Streams is similar, and better, and it finally came out in Region 1 last year.
posted by heatvision at 4:40 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I probably wouldn't have gotten around to watching this for a while if I weren't contractually obligated to, but I'm glad I did.

I really liked the ambiguity. At first, I was thinking that she wasn't crazy at all, but just sort of frustrated and impulsive before it became clear there really was something going on with her. And then, whatever mental illness or substance abuse problems she has are sort of ambiguous too. Like it's not a single, easily contained issue with a clear cause or resolution, but a multifaceted sort of thing intersecting with everything around her.

I especially like how the camerawork reinforces the sense of off-kilteredness. During scenes of social tension, things are just a little out of focus or out of frame and it's almost like the camera is trying to figure out what to do. I also love slice of life style storytelling that doesn't pretend to be self-contained, without bad guys and good guys and a neat moral or conclusion. The 70s were really great for that sort of story, and this is one of the more 70s-ish movies I've seen in a while.

So yeah, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for forcing me to watch it.

(BTW, Paramount has a YouTube channel where they have a bunch of their older movies to watch for free, including Love Streams.)
posted by ernielundquist at 8:25 AM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Wow, this is hard movie for me to watch. My mom was always the sane one but Falk and Rolands look so much like my parents at exactly that same time in the seventies that it's creepy.
posted by octothorpe at 7:08 PM on February 15, 2016

The camera work is astounding in this film; the tight focus hand-held work is so claustrophobic that you feel like you're trapped in the house with them. I love the way that things are out of focus and badly framed and windows and that lamps are just fuzzy blown out blurs. The closeups all seem like you're standing too close to the person talking and really want to be able to step away but you can't.
posted by octothorpe at 7:38 PM on February 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

This movie made me fall in love with Gena Rowlands.
posted by hoodrich at 12:34 AM on February 18, 2016

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