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Naked, 1993

ThewlisNaked is a harrowing portrait of self-destruction and victimization. It is the story of a drifter named Johnny (David Thewlis) who, fleeing from certain retaliation over a violent tryst, runs away from Manchester to find his ex-girlfriend, Louise (Lynda Steadman). Instead, he meets her roommate, Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), an attractive, spaced-out, and unemployed woman, and impresses her with his abrasive wit and sardonic humor. By the time Louise comes home, Sophie has developed an immediate attachment to him. But Johnny is more interested in the conquest than a commitment. The more Sophie tries to love him, the more distant, abusive, and violent he becomes. Feeling smothered by Sophie's constant attention, he storms out of the apartment and wanders the London streets, finding other lost souls. Mike Leigh's improvisational approach to filmmaking (a technique used by John Cassavetes to create equally compelling characters) has elicited powerful performances from Thewlis and Cartlidge, who create characters as equally likable as they are pathetic - Johnny: lost, misguided, disillusioned; and Sophie: gullible, perennial victim, starved for affection (the acting is equally inspired in Leigh's Secrets and Lies). There is an uncomfortable and exceptionally heartbreaking scene where Sophie, after a forced sexual encounter with an unwanted guest, lies in fetal position, visibly convulsing on the floor. Naked is Mike Leigh's devastating, caustic vision of life without roots, hope... or heart.

ThewlisThe grainy look of the the characters in the film provides a subtle visual manifestation of the theme. Seeing the characters through this perspective, they appear raw and unmasked. Symbolically, they are exposed - emotionally naked - vulnerable. They have, in different respects, fallen out of society, and are in desperate need of validation. Johnny and Sophie are unemployed. The night security guard has a meaningless job. The woman across the building fears the loss of her youth and beauty. As self-assured and confident as they project themselves to be, their brief encounters are all attempts to feel something - anything - to prove that they are still alive. Naked is an unrelenting, deeply disturbing film about the pain of alienation and lost direction.

© Acquarello 1998. All rights reserved.

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Secrets and Lies, 1996

Blethyn/Jean-BaptisteSecrets 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.

Jean-Baptiste/BlethynMike 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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