THE NEXT CASSAVETES is ostensibly about the re-making of John Cassavetes’ classic 1971 movie Minnie and Moskowitz, but in essence it is an exploration of complex issues of ego, family and the human journey wrapped in the guise of a simple motion picture.
The protagonist is Stefan Lysenko, who has been in Hollywood 20+ years, starting strong in his acting career but eventually fizzling out in a series of dispiriting, hackneyed roles. Frustrated, he turns to making his own shoestring-budget movies, which become nothing more than conversation pieces on his fireplace mantle.
Long a fan of Cassavetes and now living in the apartment where the director shot a crucial scene from the movie, Stefan embarks on a quest to re-make Minnie and Moskowitz, using locations already at his disposal, in an effort to re-introduce Cassavetes to a public which has since forgotten him …but it is a fool’s errand and he will turn into Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.
The movie is comprised of three separate elements: The first element is footage from the actual making of the movie itself, where problems arise immediately; is it legal to do a scene-by-scene reshoot of M&M? Fearing that it’s not, the movie will then be more of an homage to Cassavetes, with locations, scenes, etc., remaining the same, but changing the dialogue and using the existing scenes more as inspiration rather than duplication. Numerous other obstacles (financing, logistics, the talent) present themselves and the shoot deteriorates into a chaotic hurly-burly of despair.
The second element finds the camera behind the scenes and, in the style of The Office, captures the temperaments, aspirations, and disappointments of the people involved in making movies. The camera pans and flashes and zooms in for close-ups, documenting the lives on set. A casual analysis of Cassavetes, his relevance or obsolescence, is undertaken by various crewmembers and, hopefully, by the original actors themselves, who are on set acting as consultants.
Stefan is unaware of this aspect of the production as the documentary is his wife’s secret, surprise love letter to him, and we see him in his most raw, vulnerable states, made all the more harrowing because he is unaware he is being filmed.
The third element comprises the emotional core of the movie…it is Stefan’s personal journey from boy to man. Archival snippets of his early life and of his father are sprinkled in with footage from Stefan’s acting, filmmaking and political endeavors to create a narrative of his life. Through candid interactions with his wife and then, eventually, with a psychiatrist he turns to, Stefan explores his reasons for taking on this now-doomed project. Why Cassavetes? Why Minnie and Moskowitz? Why even bother with anything?
The answer lies buried but it is a simple one: He has undertaken this project not as a tribute to Cassavetes, but as a tribute to his father, an immigrant from Eastern Europe who sacrificed all to help Stefan live (or attempt to live) the life he desired.
Minnie and Moskowitz represent his love for his father and his desire to make him proud; this is the windmill he tilts at.
He will pay the ultimate price for it.