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Is life sweet? Yes, it is, according to Mike Leigh, the director of the award winning 1991 British film, “Life is Sweet.”
This film is not about the genteel Britain of “Upstairs, Downstairs” or Jane Austen, but is a raw, edgy and darkly comedic film about a working class family in contemporary London suburbia.
Each family member is highly quirky, from the chirpy, continuously joking mother, brilliantly played by Alison Steadman, to the suffering, disturbed and confused bulimic twin daughter portrayed by the award winning actress Jane Horrocks. In between are the cheerful and fuzzy brained dad Andy (Jim Broadbent) and the very together other twin daughter played by Claire Skinner.
The food themes that run throughout the movie are metaphors for their lives and relationships. Andy, a chef in a large hotel, is persuaded while under the influence of his regular pub mate, to buy a completely derelict food van.
Meanwhile, Wendy, the mom, who already teaches little girls dance and works in a used children’s clothing store, takes on yet another part time job helping out at the family friend’s new French restaurant, which offers one of the weirdest menus ever concocted in a bizarrely decorated premises.
Mayhem on opening night ensues, while at home, Nicola (Steaman) has another shattering eating disorder episode. Ultimately, each family member struggles or copes with the hopes and daily grind of their individual lives.
What is remarkable is the basic optimism of the characters, poignantly explored in the moving scene of Wendy and Nicola being open and loving with each other, affirming the fundamental closeness and support within the family.
While the film may be a rough and frank portrayal of a family with its odd and dysfunctional members, it is also a hilarious and moving account of everyday life by one of Britain’s foremost contemporary directors.
Leigh has a unique method of filmmaking: with only an idea, a group of handpicked actors and no script, Leigh sometimes spends months working with the actors to create characters from scratch.
Once he decides that they are ready, the director brings the group together for more months of extensive improvisations before a final script is finalized and filmed.
“Life is Sweet” will show at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Upstairs Meeting Rooms at Mesa Public Library. The Mesa Public Library Free Film Series is funded by the Friends of Mesa Public Library with support from the Los Alamos Arts Council. It is run by volunteers.