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Mike Leigh: Moments

“A film can only be interesting if it’s rooted in reality in some way, things can only be funny if they’re rooted in reality, and they can only be tragic if they’re rooted in reality.” —Mike Leigh

London serves as more than a backdrop in Mike Leigh’s films; it’s a distinct and integral character. His dissection of Britain’s class system involves fully inhabiting London culture with sometimes harsh and always humorous realism. As the Boston Review noted, Leigh’s films are the antithesis of the Merchant Ivory variety—not rooted in the glossy, hazy past. Although eschewing any overt political statements, Leigh’s films look at the complexity of society and firmly stand for a compassionate yet stark, honest, and humanist world view. His way of telling a story as he uncovers the peculiarity, contradiction, and secrecy intrinsic to ordinary lives has influenced a generation of filmmakers around the world.

This authenticity slowly evolves as he workshops his projects. Because of his theater background, Leigh utilizes a unique collaborative and creative process with actors. Starting with merely a notion or idea for a film and its characters, he assembles his cadre of actors, and they spend an intensive six months of rehearsal to work out the characterizations. As Katrin Cartlidge (Naked, Career Girls) explains, “We’re not given storylines. You build a character with him. Once the character is ready, it starts to interact with the other characters, and all of these extensive improvisations/investigations are what Mike will take for the film.” Once the camera rolls, the improvisation ends.

The result is intense and personal films, with fully developed personalities and performances of extraordinary depth. From David Thewlis’ raw Johnny in Naked to Imelda Staunton’s nurturing Vera Drake; from Brenda Blethyn’s on-the-edge Cynthia in Secrets & Lies to life-affirming Poppy in the director’s newest work, Happy-Go-Lucky—all of Leigh’s films are anchored by unforgettable characters.

This rarely assembled retrospective includes all the theatrical feature films, screened in 35mm, from this multiple Oscar–nominated filmmaker.