Proving that our sorely missed Peter Falk was much more than just Columbo, VWMF celebrates his intense and productive relationship with independent film god John Cassavettes. Falk was at the heart of three Cassavettes’ pictures—Husbands (1970), A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Big Trouble (1986).
A Woman Under the Influence is one of Cassavettes most intense and celebrated films, chronicling the unstable Falk and Rowlands household with documentary-like dispassion. Gena Rowlands, Cassavettes’ favorite leading lady, who appeared in seven of his twelve films, is the wife of Falk. Her fragile mental state is aggravated by Falk’s inability to understand her needs, or her dependence on and devotion to him. As Cassavette’s camera captures the unfolding romantic tragedy, Falk and Rowlands give harrowing and unflinching performances of a couple trying and failing to truly reach one another, with often violent consequences.
The camera rarely strays from Gena Rowlands, but when it does, Falk is the even more enigmatic, exhausted half of the duo. He is trying to protect his fragile wife, but has never learned how to understand her. From an aborted welcome home party Falk awkwardly tries to throw for Rowlands upon her return from a mental hospital, to the film’s final confrontation on the living-room sofa, children at their feet as Rowlands’ hand bleeds from a self-inflicted wound, Falk’s love and helplessness is never in question.
A Woman Under the Influence documents the most fractured, yet loving, marriage depicted on screen since ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’, an unbearable portrait of blind love and horrible pain. Relying entirely on the strength of its performances, the film is in expert hands with Rowlands and Falk at its heart.
Rest in peace, Peter Falk, and much love.
By Britta R. Moline 6/25/2011