Bleak Moments

Though last year's much-heralded Secrets And Lies was the first time many moviegoers took notice of him, English director Mike Leigh has been turning out unflinching, alternately comic and sad films for over 25 years, beginning with this 1971 release. Anne Raitt plays a shy, drink-prone woman in charge of caring for her retarded sister. Feeling trapped, Raitt desperately looks for some connection with another person, alternating her attentions between two equally awkward men: a local teacher and a hippie lodger. Many of Leigh's signature touches are already in place, most notably his patient ability to create realistic scenes and sustain them to the point where they're almost painful. The ability to find performers who never seem for a moment to be performing is also here, giving Bleak Moments, like all of Leigh's films, an almost voyeuristic feel. This is particularly notable in a scene in which Raitt and the teacher (Eric Allan) exchange what must be the most uncomfortable romantic gesture ever filmed—a moment which, by moving from sadness to humor before collapsing into pathos, captures everything Leigh does well. Although not without its comic elements, this is, as its title suggests, mostly grim material, more in tune with 1993's Naked than the guardedly optimistic Secrets And Lies or the only somewhat ironically titled Life Is Sweet. However, that shouldn't discourage anyone from seeing the long-overdue video release of a major director's excellent first film.

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