In conversation with Mike Leigh @ London Film School

Photograph:Wikipedia

14.01.2021

Mike Leigh OBE begins the Q&A session by reflecting on his beginnings in theatre and film. His first cinema inspirations came after moving from Manchester to London, where for the first time he saw subtitled film and works such as Ermanno Olmi’s formed his biggest inspirations. As he trained to be an actor at RADA, he realised he was able to sneak into the LFS lectures without raising too many suspicions and there he began an education in film. Not long after, his first feature film- Bleak Moments– was created as a collaboration with a school friend with a budget of less than £20,000, largely donated by the lead actor.

What I found most interesting about Mike Leigh’s conversation was learning of his relaxed approached to film creation. Despite being known as a screenwriter, he never writes a script but rather has an idea of what he wants the film to be about and where he wants it to go. Once the idea is formed, he will organise a cast who he then collaborates with in creating the scenes. Afterwards it is written up as an ‘assembly’ for sound production to use. He explains that he began creating Naked– his film about an unemployed Mancunian who vents his rage on unsuspecting strangers- with only the remotest notions of what he wanted to create, embarking on a journey of discovery. This free way of working extends across all of Leigh’s work, as he refuses to use story boards even when it means fighting with his crew on Peterloo, sticks to small crews as well as budgets. The only ridigity it seems Leigh adopts, is that he is firm that actors should only ever know what a character knows at any given point, allowing for the most authentic of performances. It is clear his works are real passion projects focused mostly on exploring character rather than subject, but that his films are always about things which interest him, as Vera Drake was born from his consciousness of illegal abortion growing up. Leigh is definitely proof that for film, you really don’t need a rule book to be successful just passion, inspiration and of course, money.



BlackAF

Photograph: Gabriel Delerme

Looking for an easy watch comedy during the lockdown? Look no further than Kenya Barris’ BlackAF, following on from his earlier series ‘black-ish’, ‘grown-ish’ and ‘mixed-ish’. Despite being criticised for being a rehashing of ‘Black Ish’, viewed in separation this is a funny and fresh watch, readily available at your Netflix fingertips. The series is a satirised depiction of Kenya Barris’ life, a wealthy comedy writer, presented as a documentary attempt by the protagonist’s daughter for her college application. Showing his black middle class family living in a white middle class world, the series confronts issues of prejudice, cultural identity, and ‘black art’ success in a way that (prior to Black Ish), I had never seen before. Kenya Barris may need to push himself to get away from the shadow of Black Ish, but here he has stuck to what he does best: expounding on his personal narrative in a satirical context.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Photograph: Cannes Film Festival

Set in France in the late 18th Century ‘Portrait On A Lady on Fire’, is a progressive period drama about a solo female artist named Marrianne, who is commissioned to complete a wedding portrait of Héloïse, against her knowledge. In this wonderfully feminist piece the four main parts are women, with the addition of Héloïse’s mother the countess and her maid Sophie. The film is ultimately a discussion of the female gaze, a woman being painted by a woman, who also gazes upon the painter, both constantly under scrutiny. The male absence in the film is glaring and yet the female oppression is loud; it is in Marianne’s need to paint in her father’s name as well as Héloïse’s arranged marriage. Throughout the film Héloïse, Marrianne and Sophie the maid, form a kind of sisterhood like that seen Mustang, coming together through difficulty.

It is a heartbreaking and beautiful LGBTQ film. 9/10.

Viewed on MUBI.

Mustang – film recommends.

Photograph: Allstar/Canal+

A tale of sisterhood.

This Turkish language film by Turkish-French film director Deniz Gamze Ergüven is set in a small village, near to Istanbul. The film depicts five orphaned sisters who live with their grandmother and presents their struggle growing up in a conservative society. The plot begins with typical childhood scenes of the girls on their way home from school, playing with a group of boys in the sea. When they reach home however, they are met with fury for bringing ‘shame’ on their family and are forbidden from leaving the house. The film is an aggressive discussion of female oppression in conservative countries, covering dark topics such as gender violence, assault and suicide. However, it is the friendship, rebellion and most importantly sisterhood, which makes this film so memorable.

A stunningly portrayed feminist work, 8/10.