Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bleak Moments (Mike Leigh) - 1971

I have long been a fan of the films of Mike Leigh. Ever since the release of Secrets & Lies (1996) I have been watching each release of Leigh's with great excitement. Shortly after seeing Secrets & Lies, I journeyed back slightly in Leigh's film career to the movie Naked (1993) which remains one of my ten favorite films these almost 13 years later. Career Girls (1997) remains a film I'll never forget after the brilliant performance of Katrin Cartlidge. Topsy-Turvy (1999) caused me to fall further in love with the musical/opera The Mikado. And, Vera Drake (2004), poor Vera Drake, one of the most intense and unusually touching films of the 2000's. I admit a small amount of disappointment with Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) as I still have not come to terms with Poppy's character. But, all in all, a Leigh film has never been a painful, boring, or useless experience.

Leigh's latest film, Another Year, is released by this months end. The performances of Leigh regulars Broadbent, Manville, and Sheen are being applauded. The film itself being praised as one of Leigh's grandest. And, I have sat through the preview a small handful of times, finding myself close to tears on each viewing. Realizing my emotional connection to Leigh's films has made me decide to go back to the earliest of Leigh's films and travel through the filmography much like I did with the films of Peter Greenaway.

Bleak Moments was Leigh's first feature film release. This would be his only feature film release until High Hopes in 1988. For the 16 years in between the first and second feature film release, Leigh created a series of made-for-TV films/plays. Bleak Moments is not trying to trick you. The title warns you of exactly what is headed your way. The film has a small amount of dark humor, but is mostly made up of a series of bleak, awkward, uncomfortable situations and the characters living these lives.

Sylvia, played by Anne Raitt, is a mysterious character. She is quiet, scared, confused, and in need of an escape. She cares for handicapped sister, attempts dates with an equally shy school teacher, and flirts a little with the drifter renting the space in her garage. All of these characters are just sort of existing. They would barely stand out if you were to turn your head too quickly. But, Leigh doesn't allow you to turn your head. Leigh wishes for you to slow down and just experience.

Bleak Moments is certainly not Leigh's greatest film. But, it is his first film and is quite strong for being a first. It makes perfect sense that Leigh would follow this film with a series of staged made-for-TV plays because so much of Bleak Moments feels like a stage production. The sets are sparse and the acting is quiet. This film contains one of the most uncomfortable, and somehow sad, dates to ever be filmed.

This is a slow film. A quiet film. One must be patient to find their way through the film, but the experience is worth the wait to see the birth of Leigh's style and methods


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