Sunday, March 06, 2011

BLEAK MOMENTS (1972) - Mike Leigh


"Bleak" may be too slight an adjective to describe the moments in this film. Try "torturous," "cringe-worthy." Try "excruciating." In his very first film, Leigh establishes his career m.o. right out of the gate...exploring everyday human misery in drab, unadorned London surroundings with fully-committed actors squirming under the microscope of a dramatic documentarian's gaze. Sounds like a blast, doesn't it?

The story revolves around a pretty but reserved secretary in London tasked with the full-time care of her mentally disabled sister. Her only friend is a chatty, shrill co-worker at the accounting office. Her only romantic prospect is a stuffy, asexual school teacher and the nearly non-verbal hippie renting out her basement to mimeograph assorted pseudo-radical leaflets. It's not much surprise when we see our heroine slugging shots of sherry between offerings of tea and biscuits. But even the sherry seems to provide little relief, only a faster fast-track to impending spinsterhood.

Unlike Naked or Happy-Go-Lucky, there are no effusive characters (happy, ranting or otherwise) to distract from the grim societal mechanisms in place. This time, all the characters seem to brood on the same psychic level. Poverty, familial obligation, miscommunication, depression, alcoholism, despondency, despair. Bleak Moments has them all in spades. It is Mike Leigh undistilled. Not a "fun" film by any means, but a fitting one for a rainy, dreary Sunday afternoon.

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