Thursday, October 1, 2009

Best British Films: 14. Naked

I only just discovered the films of Mike Leigh last year when I caught Happy-Go-Lucky at my local arthouse theater. I've been exploring his filmography ever since and so far have loved everything he's done. He's one of a few directors who landed two films on The Observer's 25 Best British films list. One of those films is Naked, about a sexually agressive man, played by David Thewlis in a smart and acerbic performance, seeking solace in the city of London.

Naked is aptly named, but not for the reason you might think. Mike Leigh is once again working with an ensemble cast, and the characters they've created are physically naked at times, yes, but in a greater sense as well. They all lack families, stable homes, jobs. They live their lives almost entirely without protection to the shattering experiences they will endure. We don't always know the circumstances, but the characters in Naked are beaten down, broken, and searching for meaningful connections in all the wrong places.

Mike Leigh is a thrilling filmmaker, because he's one of the few working who refuses to adapt to conventional narrative standards. Naked doesn't necessarily have a plot, or sympathetic characters, but Leigh and his actors are so observant in their study of these people that their lives, however empty and painful, are important to us.

There's a particularly brilliant scene in which Johnny spends an evening discussing philosophy and the end of the world with a building security guard. He comes across as intelligent and studied, and yet his life is falling apart, and this connection to a strange security guard is one of his most profound. ***1/2/4


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