DIRECTOR:                     MIKE LEIGH
COUNTRY:                     ENGLAND 1996
MUSIC:                            ANDREW DICKSON
CAST:                              Timothy Spall, Phyllis Logan, Brenda Blethyn, Claire Rushbrook, Marianne Jean-Baptiste
SUPER FEATURES:        The acting, as is customary in Leigh's films.

To watch this film, or any of Mike Leigh's films, one really has to appreciate the finer points of acting, in its most developed moments, as is done in the world's best stages. In this sense, Mr. Leigh is the best theatre director in film at work today, if Peter Brook has retired.

Some say, that acting is a method, that is learned through a few clever movements, and actions. Some say that acting  is a living truth of some sort that brings about an internal response, which the actor can not avoid in any way, and acts with. Mr. Leigh's films, are about the best that one can get out of the acting, in its furthest point. The result is rather unusual for film standards, in that it is not exactly a "showy" exercise, or a "fun" thing, specially when the moments get serious and troublesome for each character. Taking a slight clue from film makers like Jean Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, this director keeps the camera on the actors longer, thus avoiding the standard crossover  conversational shots, and the results are one of two styles... we either get bored because we have to live through someone's catharsis, or we just get tremendously excited, because we can really feel the whole thing, and the director did not quit on the story, or actor, thus making the film come off much less as entertainment, and a lot more as a serious exercise in some form of internal psychoanalysis. The latter is not a favorite American style at all, where many audiences thought the film "boring", and "slow'.

Life is not always a Hollywood movie on steroids and madness, or a Disney fantasy, trying to help us escape our very own dreary lives, something that Hollywood has been guilty of ever since its beginning. In Europe, film is not always entertainment, and its directions tend to be towards the "literary" side of things, or to the "artistic" sides of  things, which is always over looked in America due to its top ten money making film mentality.

But few films can even stand up to the incredible ensemble acting work that this film provides, that would make the best theatre people of the 20th century so proud that their craft has developed so beautifully.... the material may not exactly be Ibsen, or Shaw, or Albee, or Williams, but the results are no less different and strong. If you had been through an evening of such strong acting, you would have given the actors a standing ovation.

This is the story of a young woman that goes out to meet her birth mother. She had been adopted when she was young, and her adoptive parents chose not to hide anything and let her know that she was adopted, and where she was acquired from. And when her parents finally die, her journey starts. She goes after the company that took care of her adoption. The counselor (the weakest of all the actors in this film), is a bit of the 60's mentality in hipness, but not in content. Like all doctors she also lives in her own world, and do not really believe people can handle their own affairs. But Hortense is stronger than that, and she continues on her search.

It leads her to a rather dysfunctional family, who happens to have kept it all a secret in regards to this particular adoption, that even the mother does not remember, thus suggesting that she might have had other children also given away. Cynthia, in her earlier days, seems to have had numerous affairs, and enjoyed herself. But as she graces into her fifties, her ability to deal with the past is catching up with her. When she finally agrees to meet the young  woman, she is convinced that she does not have another child. She finally remembers, that when she was fifteen, she was forced to put a child she had up for adoption, and that the father was a young American black boy, she vaguely remembers. However, this is only the beginning of the story. Here her family plays a major role. Her second daughter is pregnant and about to get married. And she has a problem with her mother, which seems to be stemming from some dishonest feelings. The mother's brother has helped all his life, and has helped keep all the indiscretions hidden from her family. But when Hortense shows up, the whole thing gets rather complicated, specially towards the end, when the younger sister realizes she has another sister, and that she is black, which is a major shock.

If anything, one would have loved to see this film as a part of the "living theatre" scene, since it's story and  material could easily become endless. Film tends to tie up things cleverly a la Moliere, just so we do not have questions. And although this film answers the main questions about its story, it raises others, and this is so true of life and its daily moments... call this cinema verite, rather than just another entertainment story.

What really sets apart this film, is without a doubt, Brenda Blethyn, as Cynthis, the mother who has had a daughter adopted, but has never really dealt with her feelings in the matter. She is un-employed and a "victim" of sorts of the system, in that she is un-educated, and pretty much out of the realm of possibilities in life to learn a whole lot more. But while she is in denial, her maternal instincts take over, and she befriends Hortense, which adds a nice touch to the whole thing... the problem is how to break years and years of lies to the rest of her family. Hortense has always been a part of the truthful side of her life and feelings... the others have not.

Few films stand out for their knicks and knacks. If one is mostly interested in catching adventure stories and fantasies, please avoid this film, so you don't have to say anything not nice. If one appreciates the further development of the acting styles, as an art form, few films will ever stand up to this one. And fewer directors still will ever allow such great freedoms to let the characters be who they are.

Quite worth seeing. Very well designed, even from a conceptual stand point. The camera is mostly on hand, and staying with each character... and even though it can be "pressing" it never "abuses" the character at all. It allows for the character to have some space, something that even the likes of Godard and Truffaut did not do. by comparison, they were very mechanical in form, style and substance, if not eccentric.





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