A Woman Under the Influence

Talking to me, S. came up with this image: walking with your hands and a french baguette in between your legs. I knew immediately that a great image was born to stay, for it speaks of all the things and options that lay in between a simple black and white, a yes and a no, all the various laugthers and ironies as alternatives to escape control.

In his 1974 film „A Woman Under the Influence“, John Cassavetes brilliantly writes and directs Mabel´s story – interpreted by his own wife in real life -, and how her madness polarizes everyone around her. She is a force of nature.
Curiously, one never comes to a conclusion as to which influence Mabel is under, if alcohol, drugs, her family, her husband, society in general… in the end of the movie the question remains as open as in the beginning, together with the impression that we´ve only witness an excerpt of their on-going long story. And such story is made of routine, trust and love.

Their unconventional marriage and family life is the center of the plot. We are introduced into their core and we get to see how the outside world interferes and changes their codes everytime. This is a story of two people, that though disfunctional to the outside world, manage to get along together. It is about how they are strangely saving each other on an every day basis. The curtain of their bedroom literally functions as a stage curtain, which is opened and closed as guests come and go and situations change and tension explodes.

Mabel is a fascinating character, challenging conventional representations of madness in cinema. She is coached by her husband to act in a certain socializing, understable way while in the presence of guests. In these moments, she tries to control her emotions and ticks in a way which is sort of aceptable for others. And this is when she says: „It´s working!“. She is aware that in order to live one has to act according to already established social rules. The problem is she hasn´t lost her capacity to play, on the contrary to most grownups. Except, she finds no way to balance it. And so her eccentricity escalates, leaving her husband with no choice but to committ her to a mental institution for several months.

When Mabel finally returns, she’s a mere shadow of the woman she used to be. Gone are her chattiness, her warmth and naivety — and basically her personality. Nick, in his own typical inarticulate, brutish manner, tries to get his wife to return to the way she used to be. He keeps inciting her to „be herself“, to go back and do her assorted ticks, be spontaneous once again.

Cassavetes is an amazing director and screen writer. But some of the film´s brilliancy has to do directly with Gena Rowlands´magnetic performance and the psychological complexity of her character. Many of the scenes were born of the improvisation work between the actors, always under the spell of Rowland´s compelling performance and personality.

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