Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence

Art movie queen Gena Rolands received her first Best Actress nomination for playing Mabel Longhetti, a mentally ill housewife who has an ugly nervous breakdown in John Cassavetes' movie A Woman Under the Influence. Now, I'm sure that Gena Rowlands was the Edith Evans type of frontrunner that year. She got the Globe, several critics awards, but I don't think that she got enough votes as the Academy might have thought that her movie and performance was too depressing. I think the race was between Faye and Ellen.

A Woman Under the Influence is a truly-truly depressing and quite weird art movie about the troubles of a marriage. John Cassavetes was an excellent director, but I prefer Ingmar Bergman's type of art movies. Nevertheless, this film totally upset me and it was very uncomfortable to watch even for the second time (I don't think that there will be a third time). The directing nom is more than deserved and a Best Actor nom for Peter Falk would have been just as justified (I mean Albert Finney got a nomination but Falk and Gene Hackman didn't? Come on).

But, the most essential thing to this movie is a highly talented actress, who's far from being a typical Hollywood beauty queen. Gena Rowlands, in my opinion, was the perfect choice for this part. She's extremely credible as a simple housewife and actually I could not have imagined anyone else being as good as her. Nobody would have had as much courage throughout the movie as Gena.

The role of Mabel is an incredibly hard role to play. Originally Cassavetes intended to write a play, but Rowlands convinced him that it would be too hard to play every night. This was a wise thought. It's very difficult to perfectly catch Mabel and play her and it's good if she succeeds once. The screenplay gives so many layers and faces to this character, that it's almost impossible to show them all. But Rowlands was able to give a tour-de-force performance.

First of all she really makes sure that you will NOT enjoy her acting. She's not afraid to show the real nature of mental illness: it's ugly, disgusting and horrifying. It's nearly scary how fearless Gena Rowlands was when she created this performance. I can only think of Liv Ullmann in Face to Face as someone who was so brave. However, I must tell the they chose very different ways to show the isolation of these character.

There are many memorable scenes, but I must definitely mention her 15-minute-long breakdown in the middle. In that long scene, she such a dizzing combination of emotions: fear, anger, disgust, devastation, shock, hate, love, care and this makes it extremely hard to watch. Personally, I almost got sick of it. When she starts screaming while Peter Falk is hugging her or when the doctor is trying to approach her is very creepy and shocking. Such depth of that character is revealed to the audience that it makes those minutes very difficult to sit through for anyone.

In my opinion it's much more difficult when somebody has to create a character of a real world than out of fantasy (that's why I don't adore Emily Watson in Breaking the Waves). There are so many traps which can ruin the whole performance: first of all, Gena has to be on the edge of being unbearably over-the-top and hysterical to show this woman.

However, in the end this character goes through a big change: she becomes quiet, almost cathatonic, but she's just as confused as she used to be. Rowlands breathtakingly developed this character. She knew perfectly well how to handle the disease and Mabel's mannerisms. Again there's a horrifying scene, where she tries to commit suicide while her husband and children always run after her. It's totally heartwrenching.

So to sum up, I can say that Gena Rowlands gave a breathtaking, gutwrenching performance, which is not for entertainment purpuses, but it's thought-provoking, stunning and sometimes unbearable to watch. Rowland's courage and talent really payed off here as she was able to give one of the greatest performances ever put on film. Haunting and terrifying job.

So what do you think? The final conclusion comes in a couple of hours.

To watch A Woman Under the Influence click here.