VIDEO: Bleak Moments

Bleak Moments
Water Bearer Films

In conceiving this 1971 drama, director Mike Leigh had to have been thinking of Brontë's Wuthering Heights--the same paperback copy of which, incidentally, appears both here and in Leigh's current Career Girls. The main character in Bleak Moments, Sylvia (Anne Raitt), is the spitting image of Ms. Brontë, sharing the author's severe hairdo, her austere, high-collared blouses, and her frozen, impenetrable face. Feeling naked, empty, and worn out, this secretary roams the barren landscape of London's row housing, meeting potential Heathcliffs who don't respond to her awkward jokes (e.g. "Would you like some nuts? I haven't got any nuts anyway!"), nor to her alternately veiled and blunt sexuality. "I was just saying something to you in my head," Sylvia tells Peter (Eric Allan), her mousy date, after knocking back a few large glasses of sherry. "It was quite amusing... I was saying, 'Take your trousers off.'"

As in most Leigh films, nothing much happens plot-wise; and the movie is so quiet at times that it's practically inaudible. "I really don't know what to say" is an oft-repeated phrase throughout the film, whether spoken or not. None of the characters--including Norm (Mike Bradwell), a guitar-playing hippie who rents Sylvia's garage, and Hilda (Sarah Stephenson), Sylvia's 29-year-old, mentally ill sister--can find a common language with which to communicate, so they don't. One of the verities Leigh conveys so well is how, in a silent environment, one's own thoughts become louder. No doubt a Hollywood film of this material would add a few precious voiceovers--perhaps by Roseanne, Danny DeVito, or that cute kid from The Wonder Years. But in Bleak Moments, we're left instead with two hours of slow, sweet, quiet loneliness.

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