Mike Leigh


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Michael Leigh

Leigh specialized in the domestic dramas of the lower middle-class in "Bleak Moments" "Grown-Ups," "Meantime" and "Home Sweet Home."

Naked (1993) is a painful portrait of a failed intellectual who preys on lonely people, who seems to hark back to the "angry young men" of four decades earlier, the "Lucky Jim" (Kingsley Amis) and the Jimmy Porter of "Look Back in Anger" (John Osborne). He is easily defeated by his own lifestyle. His counterpart is an even more sadistic devil, who seems to exist only to make the failed, self-destructive intellectual look human.

A young man, Johnny, is raping a woman against a garbage can in a narrow dark alley. She manages to escape. He runs the other way and steals a car. He heads for the place where his former girlfriend Louise lives. At home he finds the slightly deranged drug-addicted housemate, Sophie, whom he promptly seduces with his erudite speech and decadent manners. He manages to offend the good Louise. Johnny coughs a lot. He soon turns violent with Sophie but she obviously needs him more than he needs her. He upsets both girls, then kisses both, then leaves the house to be on his own, clearly indifferent to the fate of both. He spends the evening walking around the city.
Meanwhile, a handsome rich young man, Jeremy, courts the masseuse at his gym. He takes her to dinner at a fancy restaurant and sort of entertains her in his arrogant tone. Then he invites her to his cozy flat where he rapes her after telling her that he plans to commit suicide when he turns 40.
A cursing boy, Archie, who is obsessively looking for a Maggie, but it is not clear whether Maggie is a girl or a pet. She finally shows up just when Archie left the scene. Johnny takes her for a walk among the homeless and then buys something to eat. Then they walk back and finally find Archie. The kids curse at each other and run away. It is daylight now. Johnny lights a cigarette and watches the crowds going to work. Johnny ends the evening crouching against the front door of an office building, coughing and freezing. A security guard who recites religious verses lets him in, amused by Johnny's erudite eloquence. Ironically the building is empty. The guard says that he's just guarding "space". As usual, Johnny rudely explores the man's loneliness. Then Johnny out of the blue displays a deep knowledge of the scriptures. He has his own interpretation of the "Book of Revelation": the "number of the beast" (666) means the bar code that is engraved on every product, and that some day will be implanted in the flesh of people to create a cashless society. Another passage about a wormwood refers to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. An astronomical alignment proves that the "four horsemen of the apocalypse" are coming. In other words, Johnny believs that the end of the world is coming. The good guard is disoriented: his only consolation is to hope for a better future, and Johnny is telling him that there will be no future. They keep walking around the empty and silent building. From one of the windows they can see a girl who lives in the building across the street. Obviously the guard spent many hours staring at her. It is time for Johnny to leave. Sensing that the girl is lonely, Johnny walks straight across the street and asks the girl (who turns out to be not as young as he thought) if he can come in. She's drunk and wears a pajama. She's also sexually frustrated because she immediately starts licking him. When he undresses her, she feels no pleasure.
Meanwhile, Jeremy is driving his sport car and talking on the phone in French. He has a gorgeous date in the passenger seat. His normal life seems to be a mixture of lucrative business and hot dates. One day he shows up in Sophie's living room. He introduces himself as a friend of Sandra, the third housemate who is currently abroad, but Sophie soon realizes that he is the landlord. His real name turns out to be Sebastian. He is immediately abusive to her and forces her into a painful and humiliating sexual game. He grabs her hair and rapes her from behind.
Johnny meets an older man (his father?) who doesn't enjoy seeing him and plans to retire in Ireland. At the restaurant where they briefly chat Johnny meets the charming and shy waitress wearing a very long skirt; another vulnerable lonely soul. She cooks him dinner and they chat. By delving deeper into her loneliness, soon he makes her cry. However, his charm does not work with this one: she kicks him out, indifferent to the freezing temperature outside.
Louise comes home to find a naked Sebastian/Jeremy walking around the house. She tells Sebastian to get out but he refuses and the girls can't call the police because Sophie has drugs all over the place.
Johnny tries to befriend a young man who is paid to post bills on walls, but his endless intellectual rant gets on the nerves of this one, who beats him up and leaves him on a sidewalk. Worse: five punks attack him in a narrow alley. He crawls to Louise's flat, bleeding and coughing. While Louise and Sophie try to carry him to the bedroom, he is shaken by an epileptic fit. The commotion wakes up Jeremy/Sebastian, who is disgusted by the sight of the filthy bleeding epileptic.
At last, the third housemate, Sandra, returns from her trip abroad. She is shocked to find not one but three people in her bed (Johnny, Louise, Sophie) and Sebastian, whom she does know. Sandra finds Sebastian's wallet that has ids and credit cards under the name Jeremy, a fact that further confuses matters. While Sandra is still under shock, Jeremy tries to seduce Louise, who threatens to cut his dick with a steak knife. Sandra is a good woman: she kicks Jeremy out and takes care of Johnny's wounds. His leg looks particularly bad: he can't walk. Sophie has a breakdown and decides to move out. And it sounds like Sandra went to Africa with her boyfriend but now they broke up. When in the morning Louise goes to work, Johnny tries in vain to have a conversation with Sandra. So he steals some money from the girls and limps his way out of the house.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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Secrets And Lies (1996) e` una tragi-commedia alla Pinter. Le storie parallele di un fotografo, Morris, la cui moglie e` nevrotica, di una donna alcoolizzata, Cynthia, che lavora in fabbrica e vive con la figlia, e di un'oculista di colore, la cui madre adottiva e` appena morta. Una parata (comica) di clienti del fotografo, buon uomo con infinita pazienza. L'oculista, orthense, ha deciso di scoprire chi sia la sua vera madre, e, con l'aiuto di un'agenzia governativa, rintraccia Cynthia. Cynthia e` la sorella di Morris, e Morris ha deciso di dare un party per il compleanno della nipote, Roxanne, che, non avendo lui figli, e` un po' come sua figlia. Questa e` ai ferri corti con la madre, non ne sopporta piu` la debolezza e l'isterismo. Cynthia accetta di incontrarsi con l'oculista, e, dopo un primo momento di sbigottimento, si ricorda di aver avuto un figlio da un uomo di colore. La sua vita sentimentale e` stata tormentata e torbida. In breve fra le due donne si stabilisce un'amicizia: e` la prima persona che vuole bene a Cynthia, che cerca la sua compagnia. Cynthia la invita al party di compleanno.
Al party viene fuori tutta la verita`. Cynthia si lascia scappare che Orthense e` sua figlia, e Morris rivela che la moglie non puo` avere figli, e per tale ragione e` nevrotica. E` paradossale che Cynthia, che non e` mai stata seria nei rapporti sentimentali, ha avuto piu` figli di quanti ne volesse, e ne aveva persino dimenticato uno, mentre la moglie di Morris, che ha vissuto la vita della casalinga modello, non puo` averne nemmeno uno. Cynthia accusa infatti Monica di esserle sempre stata ostile. Morris finalmente sbotta, dovendo stare sempre in mezzo a tre donne che si odiano a vicenda. Orthense paga il prezzo di voler scoprire la verita`: vede le meschinita` di una famiglia media della borghesia e causa un'esplosione delle tensione che erano tenute civilmente nascoste.
Topsy Turvy (1999) is a self-indulgent and nostalgic movie which steers away from Leigh's traditional concerns with domestic dramas and sociological analysis. In the tradition of Broadway's musicals, the movie is about making a show. In this case, it is the operetta that saved Gilbert and Sullivan's career, after Sullivan had been victim of an existential crisis. The movie details how the crisis was solved by a stroke of luck and turned into a phenomenal success. The merit of the movie is not the story or a profound meaning, it is simply the faithful reconstruction of the beginning of the century and the affectionate portrait of actors, musicians and actors.
If English is your first language and would like to translate the Italian text, contact me.

Topsy Turvy (1999) e` invece una affettuosa rievocazione storica, un divertissment di classe che esula dal tema sociale e dagli scavi psicologici a cui Leigh aveva abituato. Il compositore Arthur Sullivan e il suo socio scrittore di libretti Gilbert sono sulla cresta dell'onda. Arthur e` un decadente dissoluto che ama le donne. Gilbert e` un aristocratico compassato che non tollera le donne, neppure la propria dedicata moglie. Arthur viene colto da una crisi esistenziale: e` stanco di scrivere musiche per i temi sciocchi del partner e ha deciso di andare a rigenerarsi in Francia. Fatto ritorno dalle sue orgie parigine, Arthur si oppone recisamente all'idea di musicare l'ennesimo libretto del socio. Il celeberrimo duo sembra sull'orlo di disintegrarsi, ma fortunatamente la moglie convince Gilbert ad accompagnarla a una mostra del folklore giapponese e li` Gilbert viene colto da un'idea geniale: scrivere un'operetta giapponese. Quando la legge, Arthur ne e` deliziato. Il sodalizio si ricompone. Iniziano i lunghi ed estenuanti preparativi per allestire l'opera. Gilbert lavora con gli attori e Arthur con i musicisti. Ciascun attore ha i suoi problemi, ma tutti insieme riescono a compiere miracoli. Gilbert si dimostra anche piu` umano di quanto sembri quando accetta, su pressione degli attori, di re-introdurre una canzone che aveva cancellato demoralizzando il cantante. La prima e` un trionfo. Tutti sono felici, meno Gilbert, che non sa come comportarsi davanti al successo. Sta per andare a letto con la moglie, che invano spera in un impeto di entusiasmo. Gilbert sta invece gia` ruminando cosa scrivere per il prossimo libretto. E` la moglie a dargli un'idea interessante. Intanto Arthur e` a sua volta alle prese con un problema non meno grave: la sua amante e` rimasta di nuovo incinta e dovra` di nuovo sottoporsi a un aborto. Il film e` autoindulgente. Molte scene potrebbero durare pochi secondi e invece durano decine di minuti. Leigh si toglie la soddisfazione di far vedere quanto e` bravo nelle messinscene, nella direzione degli attori, nella ricostruzione storica, nell'esplorazione di minute sfumature psicologiche.
Vera Drake (2004) is a post-war, pre-boom period that, in typical Leigh fashion, can't help making a political statement (about abortion), but mainly succeeds on the strength of its portrayal of an ordinary family, in particular the almost magical mother. Leigh excels, as usual, at domestic scenes of intense psychology, when people's emotions are confronted with people's social links. Leigh is critical as usual towards the state, although at the end the film partially vindicates the cold bureaucracy of the state (Vera's actions were indeed dangerous) and in that sense shifts the focus from what could have been a sermon on state-sanctioned injustice to the portrait of a naive fairy queen. The action takes place just after World War II, when the economy is still recovering from the destruction of the war. A nice, kind, polite middle-aged woman enters the apartment of a sick man and makes him tea. He is hardly reacting at all to her presence and kindness. She is equally nice to neighbors she meets on the stairs. She smiles at everybody. She lives in a small flat with her husband Stan and two grown up children, Sid and Ethel. She is happy to cook and clean, and has a cheerful effect on the poor family. That family is a big contrast with the family she works for, a rich family that owns a big nicely-furnished house.
At home Vera wants her shy introverted daughter Ethel to meet a nice young man, Reg, who just returned traumatized from the war. Meanwhile, the rich family is trying to pair their elegant daughter Sally with a rich handsome boy. When her parents leave them alone, she cannot resist him as he forces himself on her. clearly only interested in sex, and she loses her virginity.
Sid has a good business as a taylor. His father (Vera's husband) has a mechanic shop. Sid is still single, but rules in pubs and dancehalls.
Vera doesn't seem to get tired ever. She's always on the move. She visits her ailing mother in between duties at home and at her employer's mansion. Then she walks into the humble apartment of a single girl, and, with the usual smile and without taking any money, performs an abortion (the technique is shown and explain in detail). The lover of the girl is waiting outside but the girl slams the door in his face. At home she is visited by her friend Lily, another middle-aged woman, who turns out is the intermediary who finds the girl in need of an abortion. Reg and Ethel are slowly become more accustomed to each other, although it is hardly a wild passion. Vera's next case is a mother of seven, who can't afford another one.
Stan's brother Frank is married to Vera's opposite, a sex-starved materialistic blonde, Joyce.
Sally has lunch in a fancy restaurant with an old acquaintance, an older woman, who appears to be an open-minded independent woman, and sends her to a doctor. The doctor coldly tells her how much it would cost to have an abortion, but first she is required to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist asks her all sorts of personal questions (and makes her as uncomfortable as Vera makes her patients comfortable). Sally hesitates to answer the question whether she was a virgin and can't answer the question whether she was raped or not. The only thing that is clear in her mind is that she'd rather commit suicide than have the child. She gets her abortion in a nice clinic.
Lily meets one of the women who wants a cheap abortion (her husband is a soldier in Korea) and charges her money to put her in touch with Vera. Later Lily gives the address to Vera, without any mention of the money.
Reg and Ethel get engaged. He's not the most passionate of lovers but she's ecstatic. When Reg formally asks her father, he can hardly believe it. Vera is equally enthusiastic. While Vera and her husbamd are celebrating the news at a pub, one of Vera's patients almost dies. At the hospital the doctor blames the homemade abortion and, determined to stop the practice of illegal abortions, extorts a confession and informs the police. A detective, Webster, is put in charge of the investigation and quickly tracks down Lily. The detective is ready to arrest Vera.
Vera's family is getting ready for a big dinner to cebrate the engagement. Frank and his reluctant wife Joyce arrive. Reg arrives. They all sit at the table and the father gives a toast. Frank has another news for the family: Joyce is pregnant. Just then the police car parks in front of the building. Minutes later Vera is arrested in front of her family. She knows why the moment they walk in. The detective almost whispers to her, understanding that this is a good woman, not a criminal. He is almost ashamed to tell her husband that he's taking her away. The most humiliating moment for Vera is when she has to give her wedding ring to the female guard at the police station: she never took off the wedding ring before. Her husband is not told what this is about and is left alone in the waiting room without any explanation while the detective interrogates Vera. The second worst thing for Vera is to learn that Lily was charging money for what Vera considered mere humanitarian help. Lily was basically making money out of Vera's generosity. The detective is kind enough to allow Vera to be the one to tell her husband what is going on.
When she is finally allowed to return home, the family is divided: Stan and Ethel stand by Vera, but Sid is shocked and disgusted to hear that her mother has been killing babies, possibly hundreds of them; and Sid is even more resentful that she never told them, she never even told her own husband. Reg, instead, summarizes the sociopolitical dilemma: if you are rich, it's ok to have an abortion (we have seen Sally do it in a nice clinic), but not if you are poor. It is Christmas, but the festive mood is ruined. However, Reg thanks Vera for giving him the best Christmas in a long time, probably implying that he has a real family and, even if the situation is grave, at least he is now part of a family's situation.
Unlike the detective's interrogation, that still maintained a humane dimension, the courtroom proceedings are coldly bureaucratic. Her entire family in the audience. Vera pleads guilty. She listens in tears as her attorney defends her good intentions. The judge could care less that she is a good human being and sends her to prison for more than two years.
The consequences are dire not only on Vera's spirit, but also on the many people she was helping, starting with her own mother. In prison Vera meets other women who are guilty of the same crime, and realizes the gravity of homemade abortions upon hearing how many girls died of it.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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