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At this point of the bleak midwinter, you’ve made your way through the entire Netflix catalogue (there’s only so many ‘Witty Films with a Strong Female Lead Based on a Book’ you can handle) and are looking for a different, more varied streaming experience. With that in mind, let me guide you through some lesser known movie streaming sites, taking you through what you can watch in your free 30 day trial membership and beyond. We start with Mubi, the curated art and classic film site.
Sometimes a director just blindsides you. 
I thought I knew early Mike Leigh. I know Nuts in May, and I love Abigail’s Party to the extent that my ideal birthday would be an Abigail’s Party party (or Party² if you’re nasty). Both have their moments of existential bleakness, but I presumed the soul-wrenching of later films like Naked was built up to, and that this would be an exceptional well written and acted piece ready for some camp appreciation. Turns out that Abigail’s Party et al were just a palate cleanser, and from the off Mike Leigh is a director who can make you feel physically nauseous not from tawdry melodrama but from showing mediocre minor sufferings of ordinary people.
Perhaps the title, Bleak Moments, should have given it away. It was a fifty-fifty toss up. After all, Naked features no actual nudity, yet Secrets and Lies features plenty of both of its title nouns. Bleak Moments definitely falls in the latter camp. 
The action (such as it is) concerns Sylvia (Anne Raitt), who works as a secretary and cares for her developmentally disabled sister Hilda (Sarah Stephenson). The film follows her as she begins a relationship and rents her garage to a ‘musician’.
Out of these tiny events, Mike Leigh builds a story of quiet tragedy. Each character for one reason or another has had their ability to properly communicate wither and die, whether down to disability (Hilda), lack of interaction with others (Sylvia), loneliness, reticence, or whatever drugs the gormless garage-dweller Norman was taking in his youth. This leads to endless scenes in which no one can really say what they mean, relying instead on empty gestures of hospitality, bad jokes or inane questions. They are the problems most of us have with small talk writ very large indeed.
What makes it heartbreaking is the acting. Leigh can always get the best out of an actor, and here all players commit to their characters, who are tragic because theirs lives are a procession of those titular bleak moments, but they are unable to escape from them, and even if they could they would be unable to communicate their feelings. And so the cycle of bad dates in Chinese restaurants, fights with your live-in mother and drinking too  much sherry continue.
If this all sounds like an unbearable watch, then I’m overselling it. The acting is superb, and those with a stronger stomach than me could even enjoy what they’re seeing on screen, whether through schadenfreude or admiration for the art of the work. It runs a little long, but it’s middle-to-late section is the stuff of classic Leigh. So you watch that and I’ll have a Rennie and have a lie down.

Read the Rest of the ’30 Days of Mubi’ Series so Far:

Day 1: Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket

Day 2: Wong Kar Wei’s As Tears Go By

Day 3: Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape

Day 4: Michelangelo Antonioni’s Story of a Love Affair

One thought on “30 Days of Mubi: Mike Leigh’s Bleak Moments (Day 5)

  1. Pingback: 30 Days of Mubi: Maurice Pialat’s L’enfance nue (Day 6) | Samuel Spencer, Freelance Writer

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