September 10, 1984 12:00 PM

Hollywood’s maverick director John Cassavetes has fashioned a dark, exciting and ultimately entrancing movie about the lives of a brother and a sister, played by Cassavetes and his wife, Gena Rowlands. Cassavetes directed and co-wrote the screenplay (with Ted Allan, from his play of the same name); he also wrote some of the music. The character he portrays is an alcoholic novelist addicted to women. The opening scenes in a dim club, where he falls in love with Diahnne (New York, New York) Abbott, a second-rate chanteuse, are breathtakingly beautiful. Rowlands, nominated for an Oscar for her 1974 role in A Woman Under the Influence (also directed by Cassavetes), is on the verge of a nervous breakdown—or maybe she’s already had it. In the midst of a divorce from her husband, Seymour (Minnie and Moskowitz) Cassel, and a bitter custody battle over their daughter, newcomer Risa Martha Blewitt, she decides to move in with her brother until the storm has passed—a literal storm as well as a figurative one. The movie weaves Cassavetes’ and Rowlands’ lives together over a few days of madness in Los Angeles as they fight, try to comfort each other and keep from slipping into total emotional disintegration. At one point Rowlands brings some horses, chickens and goats home in order to give her brother something to love. The movie title is her definition of love: It never ceases, only flows forever in a stream. Cassavetes over the years has acted in big commercial movies (The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary’s Baby, The Fury) to finance his own smaller, more personal films. With some exceptions, like 1980’s Gloria, they have been strangely inaccessible. This one is different. Although at times it is harsh and violent, Love Streams is the director’s most straightforward and involving movie—and one of the best of the year. (PG-13)

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