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Bleak Moments More at IMDbPro »

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10 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Brilliant, insightful film

Author: Sergey Goldgaber from NY, USA
18 January 2003

Mike Leigh is much more effective in "Bleak Moments" than his later, more popular efforts like "Secrets and Lies". The latter lacks much of the intensity and focus of this film.

The characters in Mike Leigh's films live in different, often isolated worlds. Some haltingly, painfully attempt to communicate and relate to one another. Others just blindly or blithely drift by. There is some caring, often much misunderstanding. In Leigh's later films the characters come to some reconciliation, but there is no such escape for them here. The movie is, true to its name, bleak.

Tom Noonan's "What Happened Was", which is highly recommended to anyone who likes this film, is really a working out of one critical "coffee and sherry" scene in Bleak Moments.

One of the best films I've seen in recent years. 10/10

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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Soft, nervous and quietly powerful drama.

Author: bobsgrock from United States
12 March 2013

Mike Leigh's directorial debut remains some forty years later a powerful story which focuses on the ordinary living of a group of Londoners trying to carve out some meager semblance of existence. The true conflict resides within: nearly all of the characters Leigh centralizes on have some form of deep-set emotional turmoil raging inside of them. Sylvia, the main character who lives alone while caring for her mentally handicapped sister and working at a secretarial job she doesn't care for, seems not only disappointed in her life but also helpless in any way to improve upon her current situation.

She attempts to start up some kind of relationship with Peter, a shy and introspective schoolteacher but he seems even more apprehensive and cautious than she. Added to this mix are Pat, a rather talkative friend from work with her own set of issues, and Norm, a really odd but likable hippie-type living next door to Sylvia who attracts her through his gentility and musical ability.

Leigh's ability to probe deep within these characters and expose their innermost pain and turmoil is truly astonishing to see. So much is said with a facial gesture or expression of the eyes. Silence dominates the conversations of these people, leaving the audience ample time to study the atmosphere of the situation and the long-term results of such behavior. Certainly this is a stunning debut and lays the groundwork for future works exploring even further the inner workings of human relations.

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6 out of 7 people found the following review useful:

Awkward Moments

Author: Ted R from United States
13 April 2009

Mike Leigh is the undisputed king of the awkward moment. He takes a this cinematic staple and extrapolates it into clenching agonies of time. In some of his films, Leigh allows the unease to build up to a crescendo, and in other films he simply lets it simmer. It's safe to say the awkward silence is something of a Leigh trademark, and in this film we are given a searing, painful stretch involving five pathologically shy people.

Sylvia is an attractive yet shy working-class woman caring for her mentally disabled sister, Hilda. Her well-meaning harridan of a workmate pitches in to help from time to time, but Sylvia knows this woman is a credulous boob. There's a teacher down the street, also shy to the point of being socially inept. He likes Hilda, but that dog won't hunt, so he takes a shine to Sylvia.

Will either of these two break through their timidity? Will anyone get face to face and come down to brass tacks? If Leigh's vision of stodgy English reserve and working class ennui has anything to say about it, we can assume it's not likely...

This slow and bleak film isn't for everyone, but it helps one understand the foundations that Leigh created early in his career.

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6 out of 8 people found the following review useful:

Leigh's Early Masterpiece

Author: OsbourneRuddock from North Wales, UK.
5 September 2005

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This was Mike Leigh's first feature length film, and to my mind remains one of his most powerful. I'm afraid I must disagree with other reviewers who refer to this film as a period piece or merely "a slice of social history". This film like many of Mike's other films is about the breakdown in personal communication within an increasingly alienated society, and as such is more relevant now than ever before. However in Bleak Moments this breakdown of communication results in a peculiarly British or English form of repression -virtually all the characters are introverted or repressed in some way. The theme of communication throughout the film is made obvious in a scene where a character discusses the author Marshall Mcluhan and his theory that in mass media the real message is in the method of communication. The lack of meaningful communication and silence in these peoples lives is reflected in the fact that there is no external music in the film. Like most 'Dogme' films the only music to be found is made by the characters in the film - in this case Norman playing his guitar.

The film revolves around the pleasant but withdrawn character of Sylvia (played by Anne Raitt) Lonely and always dressed in black she lives in a dreary suburban area with her handicapped sister Hilda (Sarah Stephenson) who she cares for. During the film Sylvia befriends a very nervous hippie from Scunthorpe called Norman (Mike Bradwell) who is renting her garage. But perhaps the most disturbed character is the chronically repressed and somewhat misanthropic school teacher Peter (Eric Allan). One senses that Sylvia and Peter both desire some sort of intimate relationship with each other, but that the level of communication and emotional development required for such personal involvement would make it unlikely to develop.

The truly astonishing thing about this film is how they succeed in taking this depiction of repression and nervousness to such an extreme level without it becoming farcical, and also retain well rounded and believable characters. This is due in large part to the strength of the acting, which Mike always manages to get from his talented performers. The characters inner worlds are shown not so much through speech but through their physicality and above all their facial expressions. We may never meet people quite as repressed or introverted as these characters, but the directors purpose in accentuating these tendencies is to make clearer the dangers and shortcomings of such tendencies.

Finally, although the film title is appropriate, and the awkwardness of the characters is often difficult to watch, the film is not without humour. In fact watching this the second time around i found myself roaring with laughter occasionally. We are not, however, invited to laugh at them in a cruel way, rather they make us laugh in the same way that real people's idiosyncrasies can make us laugh. I strongly recommend viewing this film. A masterpiece in my opinion, and a work of tremendous psychological depth.

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4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Very good early Mike Leigh movie is heavy on pathos.

Author: fedor8 from Serbia
25 January 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Awkward Moments". Or how about "Awkward Silences". And when the awkward silences get broken they usually get replaced by awkward, stilted conversations which reveal the full extent and depth of the repression of the movie's English characters. Mike Leigh's second(?) movie is full of his trademark shy, exaggeratedly timid, and not at all well-adjusted people; he shows their "bleak" lives with some rather heavy pathos. Pure pathos, in the case of this particular movie, in fact. There are only a few funnier moments; it is hard to laugh at all the characters, as sadly comical as they may be.

The inability of most characters to interact with their fellow humans in a relaxed manner is best shown in a very long scene with Raitt and the teacher whom she attempts to go out with (though God knows why); Raitt and the teacher just sit there, barely exchange words, and then Raitt tries to break the wall of British reserve between them by attempting to make both herself and him drunk. What follows shortly after she gets a little tipsy is an awkward (there's that word again) attempt by her to get physical with the teacher. Alas, she apparently didn't get HIM drunk enough: he barely manages to kiss her - and very briefly - after which he retreats like a frightened school-boy. The teacher was actually after Raitt's mentally-retarded (but cute) sister, Stephenson, but she, in turn, doesn't want any part of him. Stephenson is infatuated with an extremely shy, hippie guitar player. This guy is so repressed that he can barely accept any kind of invitation of hospitality by Raitt.

I don't know if Leigh did this on purpose, or whether I am over-analyzing the film, but I see an implied connection between Stephenson and the other characters in the following way: she is retarded and does not speak at all, but the other characters - due to their repressed Britishness - are just as unable to communicate as she is. Whether or not Leigh included this bit of subtle irony on purpose is secondary. I cannot understand, though, why he cast such an attractive woman (Raitt) to play such a lonely woman. She is so lonely that her desperation leads her to want to go after the teacher, who is humourless, even MORE repressed than she is, and by far not good-looking enough for her. In reality, a woman with her looks would have suitors literally chasing her on the street. Nevertheless, this being the only "flaw", the movie is an original, well-made, terrifically acted melancholic piece that is practically as good as most of Leigh's best films.

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5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:


Author: Sergey Goldgaber from NY, USA
21 January 2003

The characters in Mike Leigh's films live in different, often isolated worlds. Some haltingly, painfully attempt to communicate and relate to one another. Others just blindly or blithely drift by. There is some caring, often much misunderstanding. In Leigh's later films the characters come to some reconciliation, but there is no such relief for them here. The movie is, true to its name, bleak.

Tom Noonan's "What Happened Was", which is highly recommended to anyone who likes this film, is really a working out of one critical "coffee and sherry" scene in Bleak Moments.

One of the best films I've seen in recent years. 10/10

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2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:

Lots of subtext per usual Mike Leigh, not much text

Author: bob_meg from United States
27 December 2010

Netflix has most of Mike Leigh's earlier films, including his early BBC films, available for on-demand streaming, so I thought I'd check out his debut feature, being a fan.

The absence of artifice in Leigh's films is always very refreshing. You never get the Hollywood "sheen" on the story. Even when he uses Names, the performances never seem like performances, but rather a scene you would most likely walk in on if you opened the front door of any house at random.

That lack of artifice is particularly glaring in Bleak Moments and one can't help but wonder if this was part of what Leigh was trying to get across: the conversations appear to be shot in first-take improvisational style and if things happen, they do, and if they don't, they don't. He isn't going to force an unnatural performance and you shouldn't expect one, either.

There's a lot going on in these pregnant pauses, however, and many shadings of self-consciousness to sift through before you glimpse the tortured soul behind each character. It is a subtle and classy trick, as other have pointed out, that the least self-conscious and therefore joyous character is developmentally-disabled Hilda.

Occasionally Leigh will show-off a bit, and to good effect, particularly in the fast cut group of headshots prior to Sylvia and Peter's date, but for the most part he plays it cool and just lets us bask in the glow of some great, naturalistic acting.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

A sensitive approach

Author: jackie negus ( from st Leonards-on-sea
25 April 2000

Having been a Fan of Mike Leigh for many years I was pleased to have the opportunity to see this early film. I saw this recently as part of a Mike Leigh season on the television. I work with adults with learning difficulties and think the subject was dealt with in a very sensitive way. This film shows how demanding it would be caring for someone like this full time at home. The carer doesn't get much of a life of her own (apart from when her work friend kindly babysits ), but loves her sister and wants to help her, she wants what is best for her. She is completely unselfish and loving. Her work friend is living with a miserable and ungrateful mother who is driving her mad but the same mother gets on very well with Hilda(the retarded sister)so she can't be all bad. I thought the Man who rented the garage to play his music was lovely, he kindly came and played music to Hilda which she loved. Plus he was company for Silvia. I thought this was a lovely film with some very good acting and a moving story.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

"Remarkable display of storytelling..."

Author: Sindre Kaspersen from Norway
6 December 2011

British screenwriter and director Mike Leigh's feature film debut, a stage play from 1970 turned into a feature film which he wrote, tells the story about a woman named Sylvia who leads a quiet and rather uneventful life in the suburbs of South Norwood, London with her mentally ill sister named Hilda. Both of them seek the company of others, but they are stuck with each other, and even though Hilda makes an effort to change their situation by inviting men to their home, their reserved and detached personalities makes the development of personal relations difficult for them.

One of the directors who are greatest at fictionalizing real life and depicting the tensions, the uncertainty, the awkward silence and the variable ways human beings communicate within social situations, goes into the heart of minimalistic filmmaking in this acutely directed independent film. "Bleak Moments" definitely has it's bleak moments and it is a sharp existentialistic portrayal of everyday life where the monotony, the waiting for something else, the endurance of time and the mercilessness of isolation gets under the skin of people who wants nothing more than companionship.

A subtle study of character, a perceptive chamber piece, a considerate drama and a social comedy, English filmmaker Mike Leigh's character-driven and narrative-driven directorial debut is a distinctly realistic film with a distinct atmosphere created by fine actors and actresses, where life is the central character that surrounds and inhabits the multifaceted and lovable individuals. The dialog is subtle and witty and in her first feature film role, actress Anne Raitt gives a profound and understated acting performance. A remarkable display of storytelling from one of the great auteur filmmakers.

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Bleak moments indeed

Author: Martin Bradley ( from Derry, Ireland
23 January 2016

Seldom has a movie been more aptly titled than Mike Leigh's debut "Bleak Moments". It's the story of Sylvia, (an excellent Anne Raitt), an attractive but lonely spinster who lives with her mentally challenged sister and whose life is indeed a series of bleak moments in which nothing very much happens. Most of Leigh's early works have been bleakly funny and, more often than not, uncomfortably so as if we are being invited to laugh at the sad sacks who make up his world rather than empathize with them and "Bleak Moments" certainly sets the tone for what was to follow. This is a grim and not very pleasant picture chock full of grim and not very pleasant people. It's brilliantly acted, (Leigh has always been a great director of actors), but it's not an easy movie to like.

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