Thursday, February 3, 2011
The improvisations are done in full costume and makeup and often on location. Leigh takes notes during this period, and when they are finally set to film, the actors are simply reminded what they said and learned during their weeks of improv.
But here’s the kicker: Leigh keeps character motivations from everyone on set, except the person playing that character. So when Vera Drake’s family discovers that she was arrested for completing a series of illegal abortions, the characters, and the actors playing them, are hearing it for the first time. Every reaction on camera is real. It’s a unique process, one that has produced several of the best films of the past two decades including Secrets & Lies, All or Nothing, Vera Drake, and Happy-Go-Lucky.
Leigh’s films have a delicate melancholy to them. Sometimes little action is occurring on screen simply because not every moment in life is terribly fascinating. Leigh, I suspect, is captivated by the mundane.
Take Gerri and Tom (played by Leigh vets Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent), the happily married couple who act as the foundation for Leigh’s new insightful film Another Year. The film tracks four seasons with Gerri and Tom; throwing dinner parties, dealing with troubled friends, encouraging their polite but relationship challenged son, and so on. One could make an argument that nothing really happens in a Mike Leigh film. I completely agree, Another Year feels like Leigh hid a few cameras in a home, taped for a year, then edited the parts that he felt added scope and depth to his characters. In short, you won’t get reality like you get in a Mike Leigh film.
Posted by Alex Withrow