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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Bleak Moments [DVD]
Format: DVD|Change
Price:£18.98+ £1.26 shipping

on 22 July 2013
Mike Leigh's first feature is certainly embryonic but equally it perhaps wears his chief fascinations (social clumsiness, the trivialities of human behaviour, self-importance and conceit, frustration and desperation and how we perceive each other and ourselves) far more clearly on its sleeve than some of his later work. There's little interest in polish here (though Bahram Manoocherhi's cinematography is wonderful) as Leigh explores the ponderous and awkwardness between his protagonists head on.

Ricky Gervais would later extol and practice the virtues of embarrassing human behaviour as a source of comedy to great mainstream success; getting on film situations that the cringing viewer may only be able to stomach via a hand over the eyes or a slightly averted gaze, but here is proof that Leigh had beaten him to it. Bleak Moments is utterly uncompromising in its mumbling mordant depiction of social awkwardness and gaffes and in the bold move of getting the reality of facial twitches, clearing of the throat, hand wringing and almost kisses onto the screen. It's a fine line between watching excruciating interplay and the product actually being excruciating to watch but Leigh just about manages this tight rope well, dazzlingly well when one considers this is his first film.

It's certainly bleak, but it is equally not without hope too, simply because of the obvious resilience of spirit at the film's centre. It is Anne Raitt as Sylvia, a young woman utterly trapped by an unfulfilled life who takes that position and its a real tragedy to see someone so beautiful - Raitt looks like and is certainly lit like a heroine in a classical painting, like something by the Dutch Masters - in such titular bleak moments, solo bingeing on sherry of an evening as she endlessly waits for Eric Allen's obnoxious coldfish of a teacher to make a move. And yet, in her care for Hilda her mentally ill sister, her moments of dry and subversive wit and her achingly slow interactions with the hippy Norman, we see a woman not just isolated but strong, determined to do her best for her sister - a care home, for example, is simply never broached and her outright refusal of her colleague Pat's offer to take Hilda on is telling.

Not entertaining in the conventional sense, but nevertheless an excellent and important piece of filmmaking and an impressive debut from one of the true great in British cinema.

The DVD also features a Mike Leigh commentary.
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on 12 October 2017
Certainly was
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on 20 June 2004
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 the other reviewer from Yorkshire who refers 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 throuout 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 the recent `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 hippy from Scunthorpe called Norman (Mike Bradwell) who is renting her garage. But perhaps the most disdurbed character is the chronically repressed and somewhat misanthropic shoolteacher 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 developement required for such personal involvement would make it unlikely to develop.
The truly astonoshing thing about this film is how they succede 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 talanted 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 aproppriate and the aquardness 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 occasionaly. We are not however invited to laugh at them in a cruel way, rather they make us laugh in the same way real people`s ideosyncracies 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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on 15 February 2001
Anne Raitt is Sylvia, the central figure in Director Mike Leigh's first major film-work, produced in 1971 to indifferent critical and public acclaim. Judge for yourself though... if you're a forty-something you'll remember all the cadences of this cold, low tech year, the predominence of the colour brown and general lack of central heating. If you're younger, see how Mum and Dad spent their time protesting and listening to bad progressive rock. Sylvia, the star of the film, may be young-ish and pretty, but her horizons are limited. She has a boring job, but devotes most of her time to looking after her disabled sister. She can only grab moments of happiness, with two men who are interested in her romantically. However, most of the film is filled with nervous pauses and uneasy silences. Leigh has stated that we learn about ourselves from seeing how we appear. We learn alot about 1971, namely the coziness of winter evenings and the cost of duty and devotion. As a slice of social history Bleak Moments cannot be criticised, but perhapss the beauty of the piece lies, Antonioni-like, in it's silences, mistakes and inelegance - it's a film which makes a subliminal impression, and if quality is your bag then Bleak Moments will colour your world with dark hues and rich reminders of a world which sadly exists no more.
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on 18 April 2012
The film is wonderful. On DVD at last.
A slice of life.. albeit life in all it's awkwardness and "quiet desperation"
There's scenes in this film though that are very funny... check out Norm the Hippie serenading Sylvia and her sister with some quite profound folk songs and then Sylvia's friend Pat, interrupting with, "why don't you play something more cheerful... something with which we can all join in?" Then there's the chomping lonely man in the corner of the Chinese restaurant. "Oi... give us some peaches and cream will ya!!!" Love it.
Mike Leigh's approach in creating such a film (originally a play) is amazing too. He explored a whole back story for each character and then threw them together into various situations.

Anne Rait is superb as Sylvia.She was in a couple of Mike Lieghs BBC shorts and has appeared in Taggert, The Lost Tribe and Coronation Street plus other tv series - but why isn't she better known?

Anyway... Bleak Moments... is a sombre but endearing Snapshot of suburbia trying not to drown.
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VINE VOICEon 30 October 2014
Mike Leigh's 1st feature film Bleak Moments announced a considerable talent.I don't think he ever improved on the all-round quality of acting performances,script and directing,including cinematography.Shot in Norwood,South London,it evokes a time 1970,and place,suburban streets,and a form of behaviour,which is awkwardly English, introspective,given to embarrassingly long silences of all the main characters.This film has all the quality for British cinema that new wave had for the French.

Sylvia(Anne Rait) lives with her mentally-disabled sister,Hilda(Sarah Stephenson) in their house.She loves her sister and looks out for her,bringing in gentleman callers, one an uptight schoolteacher,Peter(Eric Allan)the other a hippie guy,Norman(Mike Bradwell)who plays guitar for Hilda and keeps Sylvia company.She has loaned out her garage for him to live in and print copies of a folk music magazine.Sylvia works as a typist in an office with her colleague Pat,with a boss who is an irritating bore.

The anguish of unexpressed inner feelings,the failure of personal communication and social interaction,the isolation of the characters from each other. We are not connected to the wide world,only a shots of dark interiors cut with shots of residential streets.Hilda is isolated by her disability,yet all the characters fall short and crave experience and company.The desperate nature of their existence expressed in a social gathering, and a scene set in a Chinese restaurant.Mostly Sylvia's attempts to tempt Peter,by topping up his glass with sherry and through body language.

All the performers are 1st rate,but the film is centred on Anne Raitt's impassive,calm,measured,plaintive beauty,tempered by a stoic humour.Most bizarrely Peter attempts to converse intellectually about the medium dominating the message with Sylvia makes him blind to the real communication,and he falls flat at a kiss.Raitt has the bobbed hair of a Jane Eyre(and she plays the piano). Leigh draws out the silences,the pregnant pauses, until we get to each tortured soul.Technically perfect,tonally brilliant.Leigh has never been better.He's the film equivalent of Pinter and Larkin.
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on 17 August 2017
I am a big fan of Mike Leigh, and have enjoyed nearly everyone of his films and plays. This one though is a big fat no no. No real story line, and whispering all the way through, couldn't even hear what the cast were saying even with the volume on my tv turned right up. Maybe it's just me but apart from Sylvia looking after her disabled sister, liking a drop of sherry and looking for companionship, the rest of the plot made no sense to me at all. Maybe if the actors actually spoke, instead of bearly opening their mouths, I might have got the drift.
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on 11 July 2016
I can not add to what others have said so , will just say yes, im glad i purshased , this d.v d , made me realise , how slightly reserved we all were back then , But manners maketh man so maybe has something to teach the young of today . Loved the Chinese restaurant scene was just as i remember with lots of empty spaces , used to wonder how they made it pay . was hoping for a happy ending , but won't spoil for anyone who is thinking of watching the film . Also just to add reminded me of one New years eve , one of my best, in fact , just me and my bloke with a friend sat playing the guitar . Yes and was singing " Streets Of London " would have just fitted in with the film .
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on 2 November 2016
As the title suggests this is a bleak film. A wearied spinster (Sylvia) looks after her backward sister who is twenty-nine. Sylvia comes across as being sexually frustrated: is she shyly looking for a lover? There is little dialogue in the film, it drags along with facial expressions, most characters are embarrassingly shy. There is not one conversationalist in the whole cast. However, Maggie Smith is a delight. I am undecided whether it deserves three stars but that is what it is going to get from me.
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on 7 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 eachother, 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 its 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 which 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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