Secrets and Lies, 1996
and Lies is a funny, compelling, and affectionate story of
family and reconciliation. At the heart of the film is the profoundly
simple idea: that human suffering is universal, and that the only
comfort lies in our ability to share the pain with those we love.
The story opens with Hortense (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), a well-educated
optometrist, at her mother's funeral. Perhaps, as a reaction to the
loss of her remaining parent, or simply out of curiosity, she decides
to find her biological mother. We then meet Maurice (Timothy Spall),
a married, but childless, studio photographer, and his older sister
Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn), a middle-aged single mother, who works in
a factory (having the unenviable task of punching slits for cardboard
boxes). As with any family, personal circumstances, irritations, and
resentment (and perhaps even envy) have tended to separate the two
siblings who were once close. Meanwhile, Hortense's search has led
her to Cynthia. It is the development of their relationship, and the
profound catalytic effect that Hortense has on Cynthia and the rest
of her family, that is utterly wonderful and fascinating to watch.
As with any Mike Leigh film, the performances of the actors are unparalleled.
Note the exquisite subtlety of Hortense's poignant reaction as she
reads through her adoption files - the missing pieces of her life
- at the social worker's office. Another is Cynthia's indescribable
comic expression at the moment of realization that Hortense is, indeed,
the daughter she had given up for adoption. Secrets
and Lies is a truly remarkable achievement - a pensive, highly
entertaining film that confronts difficult issues with humor and pathos.
Leigh uses a narrative approach to filmmaking, concentrating on exhaustive
improvisational character development, rather than symbolic imagery.
As a result, there are some aspects of the dialogue that are left
open-ended and unresolved: the identity of Hortense's father, the
conversation between Hortense and Yolanda about a relationship between
their parents, Roxanne's past problems (that led her to the streets).
This results in a story that is highly realistic, contemporary, and
accessible. In a sense, Leigh is very similar to Maurice: he chronicles
the visual imagery of his subjects in a manner that reflects them
honestly, but with compassion. Secrets and
Lies is a tender, sensitively handled film about the complexity
of familial relationships.
© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.
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