Bleak Moments (1971)

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AFlickering
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Bleak Moments (1971)

Post by AFlickering »

"the slowest film ever made with jokes in... like watching paint dry." - mike leigh

"it's like romeo and juliet all over again, isn't it hilda?" - sylvia

a riposte to the "magazine gloss" ennui of antonioni ("unmitigated shite" is how leigh diplomatically described Blow Up) born of renoir, beckett and pinter, mike leigh's deliberately anti-cinematic debut observes the "dead suburban world" of unfulfilled typist sylvia and the disabled sister she flushes her spare time caring for. there's a hole in sylvia that needs a good filling--a shopkeeper tells her to "enjoy yourself", a mantra she'll adopt when trying to remove the stiff pants of her reluctant romeo during a hideous and protracted first date--but repression and received behaviour govern this concrete corner of south london. coworker pat projects her insecurities into a non-stop motherly babble ("she don't half get on my wick", her own overbearing mother snaps), suitor peter is a snooty academic who views communication as "like a foreign language" with words functioning as "conversational gambits", norman the shy revolutionary in the garage finds it easier to know how not to act. a TV in the background intones about fighter jets, but the banal niceties of human interaction are deadly enough, the quips and flirtations landing like neutron bombs. the relatability of the characters lies in the minutiae of their social anxiety and awkwardness: peter instantly murdering the atmosphere of any room he enters, his nervous struggles with the garden gate, his "strange" ambivalence in describing an old friend from whom he's implicitly grown apart; norman's convenient lies about precisely where he's from; the impulsive offers of food and drink to quench all the thirsty silences.

art is the closest thing to a genuine bridge. norman's guitar brings people into the same shot which by this film's meagre standards is practically a late sixties orgy (his magazine is entitled 'open family'), sylvia in all her yearning is revealed as not only an avid reader but a fumbling writer and musician, while leigh himself connects us with a world that's normally confined exclusively to the other side of the screen. playing the viewer surrogate, pat asks "why don't you play something we can all join in, something happy?", retooling art to escape, sugarcoat and micromanage--she can't even bear to keep mum's false teeth in the open, the image too stark with the realities of age and decay. hilda is the rebuttal; her learning difficulties are admirably authentic and never idealised, but leigh's acutely aware of the irony that she's the character most capable of clear communication and direct emotional connection, while the rest of us have intellectualised ourselves into our own lonely fortresses. longing for the real, sylvia chastises small-talk as an evasion, but so are the sherry she habitually sips, the drugs in norman's ditties, pat's spiritualists and, yes, jokes, all of which are too motivated by fear to elicit the desired response. the latter is deconstructed in peter's epilogue about a 'humour project' wherein he's accused of underestimating children after suggesting they lack a sense of humour, an on-the-nose way of poking fun at those who doubt the film's anti-comedy can land with mainstream audiences. perhaps it did come too soon--leigh wouldn't be allowed to make another feature for seventeen years--but it anticipated the british cringe comedy boom of the last quarter century well in advance, and i'd go as far as to call his work from this period a direct influence; you don't need to dig too deep to find direct connections with nick park, ricky gervais, chris morris, armando iannucci and the Peep Show creative team.
Last edited by AFlickering on Wed Jan 12, 2022 9:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

paulofilmo
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Re: Bleak Moments (1971)

Post by paulofilmo »

thanks - this made me laugh. and things aren't really funny without sean lock (somehow)

i keep thinking of weird littles scenes, like when peters in the teachers' lounge, or sylvia's tragic little bohemian flourishes. or the (not so little scene) of the guy in the restaurant, serves as some kind of warning, or at least we're not..

but really it's the deterministic entrappedness which pervades everything he does. or he'll give you a slice of hope, then remind you of a widowed homeless broken man, etc.

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