Wednesday, March 02, 2005

vera drake

Last night we went to Avignon to see the new Mike Leigh film, Vera Drake.

A trip to the to the Utopia cinema always makes me feel very smug. To get to the cinema we have to walk past various delectable lingerie shops which, of course, are always next to delectable patisseries (the reason you can't go into the lingerie shop) across the vellum coloured stone square, brushing the rough walls of the pope's palace, past two posh restaurants we can't afford - Christian Etienne and La Mirande - YET (but will of course when you all start buying J's new line in small paintings...coming soon!), into a picturesque courtyard and thence a rich velvety room with 'poutres apparentes'. The latest telerama ffff world music c.d from harmonia mundi plays while we get comfortable in our squishy seats. And that's all before we've seen the film. Afterwards there is always the temptation of the tarte aux olives at the Grand Cafe next door...It beats the Streatham Odeon, and it's cheaper.

'Vera Drake' is extraordinary, and for Julian and I, almost painfully close to our roots. In the film we are invited inside a series of cockney interiors which are the same as those of my Great Aunties Peggy, Olive, Agnes and Ethel, and Uncles Sid and Arthur. In the delicious absence of TV and ipods, they are filled with the bustle of incessant tea-making (which was indeed a cure-all in such households), and whistling and humming (a tradition Julian and his family carry royally on. When I fist met them, they were all humming to themselves whilst making tea). The film has a lot of silence, and indeed it ends thus, in a silence both pregnant and aborted of it's usual life.

Mike Leigh, it seems to me, has matured. When I think back to his previous films - of which I was always a fan - I remember I saw them at a time when everyone I knew was in therapy; a chorus of twenty- somethings revealing secrets and lies in big passionate speeches. We were, in a way, the 'therapy generation'. Perhaps we were also a generation addicted to drama...? We developed intimate relationships with transitional objects such as pillows and chair legs - writing letters to them, holding them close as we would like to our mother or father, screaming at them and and playing with them as our inner child.

I am by no means against therapy. I am even qualified as a Voice-Movement-Therapist. However, apart from the healing power of creative process, one therapeutic approach alone 'worked' for me and critically, I feel, it was based on the Buddhist principles of acceptance, loving kindness and a clear rather than a cluttered mind; learning to contain and transform rather than throw out one's feelings; aspiring to a life of non-attachment rather than identification with pain and above all a commitment to rising above rather than swimming around in one's ego. All very tall orders but life is a tall order.

This is where I feel Leigh has changed. The energy in his film is just as dynamic but all the more powerful for it's containment. Perhaps this is also where there is something to be said for the English (for this is a quintessentially English film) 'reserve' he illustrates so perfectly. Perhaps our pillow hugging generation has at last come to appreciate that containing emotion is not always bad and, if based on buddhist principles rather than repression, British Reserve can be one of our great qualities.

(ps. BEFORE THERAPY, I hardly dared play my cello in public due to crippling stage fright , AFTER THERAPY, however, having revealed so much embarrassing stuff in front of someone I was paying, playing beautiful Bach on my beloved cello to those who were paying me seemed like a piece of piss!)


Blogger Kimberly said...

I'll have to see this movie, as well as Holy Lola. And of course, I'll think of you and Julian in the humming tea scenes.

Oh, the memories of that litany of embarrassing things, dragged kicking and screaming out of my psyche to be (gently) examined by another. I love the way that you think about therapy's role in conquering your stage fright.

5:09 PM  

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