Secrets & Lies (Classic Film Pick)
After years of working in British television, and making four impressive features that included "Bleak Moments" (1971) and "Naked" (1993), Mike Leigh firmly established himself internationally as Britain's version of John Cassavetes with a candid film of untold emotional depth and narrative complexity. Marianne Jean-Baptiste plays Hortense Cumberbatch, a twenty-something black optometrist living in London, who traces her family tree after the death of her adoptive mother only to discover that her biological mother is a working class white woman named Cynthia Purley (Brenda Blethyn). Leigh spent many months of preparation with his actors doing improvisation workshops in order to create a script that carries a super-natural sense of realism and elemental truth. Its centerpiece is an unbroken 8-minute shot of Hortense and Cynthia meeting in an empty restaurant for tea where walls of defenses gradually come crumbling down as the truth of their relationship is revealed. Every performance from Leigh's brilliant ensemble of actors, that include Timothy Spall and Phyllis Logan, is a thing of rare dramatic authenticity. Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste are extraordinary in their restraint, humor, and spontenaity. The film's also unbroken climatic social scene elevates its primordial familial fabric into an ethereal tapestry where every ancient thread of untruth is pulled out along with other lies that have attached themselves over the years. Much more than just a touching story of the ties that bind humanity and the way we reveal ourselves, "Secrets & Lies" (1996) is a staggering work of cinematic genius. It is truly a perfect film.