“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
The Walker Art Center’s ongoing
Regis Dialogue and Film Retrospective
program, now in its 19th year, brings together some of the most innovative and influential filmmakers of our time with leading critics, writers, and historians. From October 3–25,
Mike Leigh: Moments
highlights the career of the iconoclastic British director, including the area premiere of his latest film, Happy-Go-Lucky, for which actress Sally Hawkins won the Silver Bear at the 2008 Berlin Film Festival. This rarely assembled retrospective includes all the theatrical feature films, screened in 35mm, from this multiple Oscar–nominated filmmaker. A Regis Dialogue with Leigh and LA Weekly film critic Scott Foundas will take place at 7:30 pm Wednesday, October 15. Other highlights include screenings of Naked (October 10, 7:30 pm), which earned actor David Thewlis the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival; Secrets & Lies (October 18, 7:30 pm), Leigh’s American breakthrough film which earned several Oscar nominations; and Vera Drake (October 25, 7:30 pm), featuring Imelda Staunton’s Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated performance.
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 uncover 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 are 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.
All films are written and directed by Mike Leigh and will be screened in the Cinema. Unless otherwise noted, tickets to each screening are $8 ($6 Walker members).
Receive five tickets for the price of three: $24 ($18 Walker members)
This program is made possible by generous support from Regis Foundation.
MIKE LEIGH: MOMENTS
A REGIS DIALOGUE AND RETROSPECTIVE
Friday, October 3, 7:30 pm
Leigh’s uncompromising cinematic debut depicts the life of quiet desperation and isolation of a suburban South London secretary who cares for her mentally disabled sister, drinks too much, and endures a prolonged courtship with a teacher. Roger Ebert hailed the film as “a masterpiece, plain and simple . . . have never been performances just like this before in the movies.” 1971, 35mm, 111 minutes.
Saturday, October 4, 7:30 pm
Working-class, thirtysomething Cyril is a political militant whose love affair provides a humanist and humorous center. Produced 17 years after Bleak Moments (with many British television plays in between), High Hopes exhibits the more overtly political ethos and savage satire Leigh has shown throughout his career. The New York Times called it “by far the best, most serious, most original new film to open here so far this year.” 1988, 35mm, 110 minutes.
Thursday, October 9, 7:30 pm, Free
Life Is Sweet
Alternately funny and painful, Life Is Sweet centers on a family with twin daughters: one who is well-adjusted and upbeat; the other who uses sarcasm and social critique to mask terrible secrets. Joining Alison Steadman, who shines as the twins’ mother, are several regulars who went on to grow up on Mike Leigh’s screen: David Thewlis, Jim Broadbent, and Timothy Spall. The film won three National Society of Film Critics awards, including Best Film. 1991, 35mm, 103 minutes.
Friday, October 10, 7:30 pm
This film follows a few harrowing days and nights in the life of malcontent Johnny (David Thewlis) on the gritty streets of London, where he subjects lonely women to a barrage of his peculiar brand of “philosophy” and brutality. Film Quarterly credited Thewlis with “granting the hostile Johnny an emotional complexity, largeness of mind, elegance of movement, wit and perverse charm.” Thewlis’ astonishing performance garnered the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, where Leigh was also honored as Best Director. 1993, 35mm, 131 minutes.
Saturday, October 11, 7:30 pm
Leigh’s newest film, a snapshot of a 30-year-old primary school teacher (Sally Hawkins), sparkles with joy and hope. He described the process: “[Sally Hawkins] and I collaborated to create this wonderful, nutty, zany but at the same time quite sensible, sussed, focused, and ultimately serious young woman who knows how to deal with life.” Hawkins won the Berlin Film Festival’s Silver Bear for her performance in this exploration of both teaching and learning. 2008, 35mm, 118 minutes.
Wednesday, October 15, 7:30 pm
Regis Dialogue: Director Mike Leigh with Scott Foundas
$22 ($18 Walker members)
Meet iconoclastic British director Mike Leigh in conversation with LA Weekly film critic Scott Foundas. The Walker Cinema provides an intimate stage for directors to discuss their creative process, influences, and body of work illuminated with film clips, anecdotes, and personal insights.
Friday, October 17, 7:30 pm
Leigh breaks new ground (with some familiar friends) in this loving and lavish salute to the creative process. The film details the 1880s London production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterpiece, The Mikado, and joyously illustrates how art can come from personalities at odds. In this case, those personalities are the staid W. S. Gilbert (Jim Broadbent) and merrymaking Sir Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner). Leigh takes the viewer behind the scenes in meticulous detail to rehearsals, costume fittings, and final production numbers in all their glory. 1999, 35mm, 190 minutes.
Saturday, October 18, 7:30 pm
Secrets & Lies
Leigh found his widest American audience—and multiple Oscar nominations—with Secrets & Lies. Through the film’s story of an adopted daughter confronting her birth mother, he tackles issues of race, class, and family with humor and even a glimmer of hope. Brenda Blethyn as the mother was described by Variety as “creating a central character so big and real she gives emotional life to an entire film.” 1996, 35mm, 135 minutes.
Sunday, October 19, 2 pm
Leigh’s first foray into a flashback structure juxtaposes the story of two women reuniting over a weekend with a look at their time together in the 1980s as insecure, twitchy youths from broken homes. Career Girls is a disarming tale of friendship renewing itself. 1997, 35mm, 87 minutes.
Friday, October 24, 7:30 pm
All or Nothing
Leigh’s continued exploration of the day-to-day existence of working-class Brits divided audiences of All or Nothing over whether it was his bleakest or most optimistic film yet. He focuses his lens on a weekend in the lives of neighbors in a South London housing project whose world is rocked by unforeseen events. It’s a true ensemble piece, with Leigh regulars Timothy Spall as a dispirited taxi driver and Lesley Manville as his despairing wife. A. O. Scott of the New York Times gushed, “Their climactic confrontation, in which years of bitterness and dashed expectations pour out, is one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a movie this year.” 2002, 35mm, 128 minutes.
Saturday, October 25, 7:30 pm
This character study focuses on a woman in 1950s Britain who is the bedrock of her extended family and also moonlights as a back-alley abortionist whose genuine intent is to help young women in trouble. Imelda Staunton’s nuanced performance won awards from the London, Los Angeles, and New York film critics associations and National Society of Film Critics, along with Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. “I wanted to do a film that looked at the whole question of abortion, particularly as it’s not a resolved question in many parts of the world,” says Leigh. 2004, 35mm, 125 minutes.