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A Cinema of Gestures

Hasan Cem Çal    •    26.12.2022

John Cassavetes’ cinema is a cinema of gestures. The most prominent feature in his cinema is
the gesture. But this does not mean that his cinema is defined by certain structural gestures
that are strictly filmic (as in the cinema of Godard or Straub). This rather means that what is
central in his cinema is nothing more than the gestures of the figure itself.


Cassavetes never thought of the gesture as having something to do with the form of film.
Rather, he regarded the film as a medium that encompasses and connects various gestures. In
this sense, his filmography can be thought of as a gestural web. That’s why his films are always
full of people. (In this respect, the cinema that is the most opposite to his is Michelangelo
Antonioni’s misanthropic cinema, which seems to be programmed to dehumanize the mise-en-


If Cassavetes’ cinema can be reduced to a kind of gesturalism, it is because it is bodily; that is, it
makes the body the main object of the film. What we see in Cassavetes’ cinema is always
bodies—all kinds of bodies. And the image of his films is defined by the relationship between
these bodies and how this relationality is reflected in the bodies themselves.


In this sense, Cassavetes’ cinema is a cinema of affect. In his films, the effects and reactions
between the bodies are not just physical; they are rather emotional. This means that for
Cassavetes, bodies are things that are distinguished from each other by their emotional
intensity. He has never been concerned with the physical form of bodies. Rather, he has always
been concerned with how these bodies move, how they interact with other bodies, how they
affect other bodies, and how they are reflexively affected by them. For him, the emotional
capacity of the body is primary, while the physicality of the body is only secondary.


It is possible to say that Cassavetes’ cinema is the cinema of fusion between bodies. This is
exactly why Cassavetes brings together different types of bodies in each of his films. He seems
to want to see what kind of affects can be derived from the coming together of certain bodies.
For this very reason, he does not keep the number of bodies the same in his films but also
differentiates the context in which these bodies exist. In this way, he creates a cinematic map
of the interactions between bodies. It would be no exaggeration to say that he is a cartographer
of bodily affects.


Cassavetes’ cinema thus creates intersections between various bodily entities. His cinema is a
cinema where bodies intersect. It expresses a kind of somatic intersectionality. In Shadows, the
tension arising from the intersection between black and white bodies is captured. In Gloria, the
bodies intersecting are those of a mature woman and a teenage boy. In Love Streams, what is
reflected is none other than the dissonance between the bodies of two siblings who haven’t
seen each other for a long time. In A Woman Under the Influence, we see how a woman who
has lost control of her body disrupts the order of all the other bodies around her. And finally, in
Minie and Moskowitz, two bodies that seem completely incompatible at first glance slowly but

surely harmonize with each other. Examples in this regard could have been multiplied, but what
is certain is that Cassavetes never ceases to find wisdom in the body.


Perhaps in Cassavetes’ cinema, it is Faces that culminates the cinematic power of gesture. In
this film, all bodily effects are found on the face, an integral organ where emotions are
expressed most intensely. It is not for nothing that this film consists almost entirely of close-
ups. The close-up functions as a kind of structural analog of the face, as it qualifies everything it
contains as facial. It is natural for something to look like a face when viewed closely because the
face can only be seen up close. In other words, the close-up has a facializing function. It reflects
the gesture in the best way as it intensifies bodily gestures. It is the filmic model of the face. If
Cassavetes’ filmography were to be modeled on a single film, it would be Faces. After all, a
cinema of gestures can only be expressed by gestures that are pure.

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