Mike Leigh sees a future in personal cinema

'Another Year' director says real-life films will reign

CANNES -- Should we be worried that personal films about ordinary life and the problems of ordinary people are an endangered cinematic species?

Not according to British director Mike Leigh, who believes that new technology will, in the near future, usher in countless movies that look at the real world, rather than Hollywood's plasticine fantasies, and for very little cost.

His own Competition entry, "Another Year," is a consummate example of the genre, a pic that pivots around a happily married couple and their problem-prone friends and is structured and toned around the changing seasons of the year. It's a film about growing older and the ways in which different people cope, or not.

"Life does become clearer and more complicated," Leigh told journalists at the presser Saturday morning after the first screening of the movie.

The event did get off to an awkward start, though, when Leigh refused to answer the very first question from the floor, from the Sunday Times of London arts editor Richard Brooks. The journalist began by complimenting Leigh on this current opus and proceeded to ask a fairly routine warm-up question about the underpinnings of the movie. He was cut short by Leigh, who said he would not answer questions from Brooks, who should know why.

(Brooks afterwards said he had reviewed one of Leigh's recent films unfavorably and had, many years previously, written a profile of Leigh; moderator Henri Behar did not urge the director to respond to Brooks but simply moved to another qustioner from the floor.)

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In his subsequent remarks, Leigh was forceful and a tad impatient, at pains to explain the impulses behind the movie and what it was trying to get at, and in doing so, often correcting or re-orienting the questions posed to him.

"The film is about how we come to terms with life -- how we face what we are," he said. "There is no message. It's about stimulating audiences to care about life."

The director was adamant in responding to one female reporter, who thought he had been too "mean" to the lead character, a single woman who drinks too much and wishes she had a man in her life rather than just a dysfunctional red car: "I disagree. The film is sympathetic to her," Leigh said. "Nothing in the film set up Mary (the character played by Leslie Manville) as mean. The film is not narrow or prescriptive."

At another point during the session, Leigh did say he thought the audience watching the film Saturday morning "did get it." (There was in fact a fair amount of laughter during the screening at all the right moments.)

The actors on stage included Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as well as Leigh's longtime cameraman Dick Pope. All seemingly felt the need to come to Leigh's defense: "He's not gruff; his toughness, well, he's a proper human being," Sheen offered.

Pope added that working with Leigh, who is well-known for devising his stories along with actors and having them do deep research into their characters' lives, described the process of making a film with him as "a magical mystery tour. It's a wonderful collaboration and a very amusing thing too."
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