Do you remember when I wrote that there are film makers able to change your life?
British director Mike Leigh is one of those, for Zazie.
There are no directors as Leigh capable of making you feel unsettled. He has this incredible capacity to touch the most vulnerable parts of you: to show the weakness, the stupid vanity, the misery, the unhappiness, the complexity of human minds and souls. And yet, he does that with such compassion, that you also feel accepted and loved besides all your flaws. Leigh’s movies are cathartic, deep, witty and tragic at the same time. In many cases, they also are, as far as I am concerned, simple masterpieces.
Since his debut in the early ’70s at the BBC, Leigh showed his skills to reflect the absurdity and ridiculousness of modern society with a merciless sense of humour and a love/fascination for real losers. Did you like the cruelty of The Office (British version, of course)? Then you will be crazy about his Abigail’s Party, where a middle-class couple sets up at their place a fancy apéro for few friends. A jewel!
Leigh’s first feature film, Bleak Moments (and believe me, you got exactly what the title promises you), is dated 1971 and it has been followed by a bunch of great movies such as Hard Labour, Meantime, High Hopes, Life is Sweet. In 1993, Leigh wrote and directed one of the best films of the ‘90s, the tough and gloomy Naked, for which he won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival as Best Director. The Palme D’or arrived in 1996, thanks to the MAGNIFICENT Secrets & Lies (the story of a young black woman who, once her adoptive parents are dead, goes in search of her real mother) and the Golden Lion in 2004 thanks to Vera Drake (the story of a woman practising abortions in the London of the early ‘50s).
Leigh is famous for his particular way of working, especially with actors. Once the cast of a movie is done, he starts rehearsal few months in advance and then, at the moment of filming, the shooting is very quick, because actors are so much into their characters that they don’t need any further indication. Leigh’s method proved him right, because the performances of his actors are always outstanding and they are regularly covered with prizes. The other interesting thing is that he tends to always use the same people. You can even find on internet a chart with all the recurrent names in Leigh’s movies. Among the most “familiar” ones, there are Alison Steadman (who’s been Leigh’s wife for almost 30 years), Peter Wight, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis, Timothy Spall, Brenda Blethyn, Imelda Staunton, David Thewlis and the late Katrin Cartlidge (I miss her so much!).
The other day I went to see Leigh’s last movie, Another Year, and, once again, I was puzzled by his capacity of showing the ups and downs (especially the downs, actually) of human life. Tom and Gerri (yes, that’s funny), a middle-aged couple, have their own routine: to work, to take care of their little garden, to see once in a while their only child Joe and to have dinner with few friends. Tom and Gerry look genuinely happy. Two very lucky people: lucky to have found each other, to have nice jobs, a common passion for gardening and a lovely son (who has just introduced them his nice girlfriend). You can’t say the same about their friends Mary, a middle-aged single woman with a collection of bad love affairs and a serious alcoholism problem, or Ken, who’s facing exactly the same difficulties. Seasons pass but things don’t change, and once winter arrives, Mary’s condition looks more desperate than ever.
Quintessentially Leigh-esque, Another Year is a new great example of his humanity: Mary and Ken can be so unbearable, so hopeless, that you can easily decide to hate them, but if you allow yourself to get close to them (because this is the scary thing about Leigh's movies: you constantly think that that man/woman can actually be you), you will realize how much you feel for them. The Winter chapter is perfect in its semplicity: even the way Leigh is filming, with that cold and grey light, with the characters ready to surrender to their faith, to the cruelty of life.
High Hopes are gone, and we are left just with the Bleak Moments.
But, at least, we are not alone in this world.
p.s. I didn't find a decent video/trailer for Secrets & Lies and I don't want to spoil the movie publishing long parts of it, but PLEASE: watch this movie, because it is a Masterpiece. You won't regret it!