East End Philosophy-‘Always Look on the Bright Side...'





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Neither a moment of zen, extended indefinitely, nor an epiphany for the masses could accurately describe Mike Leigh's vision of an idiosyncratic slice of east-end London housing project life.

As soul-stripping as he's ever been, British director Leigh has settled, in his new film "All or Nothing," into an astounding pace that rivals life itself. The flow of time becomes malleable in his hands-A short breath, grimace or tearful blink carries all the power of a soliloquy or dramatic argument.

In a fantastic stylistic statement, Leigh has gone from his most lushly set and plotted film in his career, 1999's Gilbert and Sullivan bio-farce "Topsy Turvy," to a film as barren of ornament as St. Peter's Cathedral is to a Congregationalist Church.

"All or Nothing" weaves multiple strands of stagnated lives going nowhere. Neighbors Penny (Lesley Manville) and Maureen (Ruth Sheen) toil side by side in the same supermarket while Penny's common-law husband Phil (Timothy Spall) and his neighbor and pal Ron drive themselves to oblivion in the fruitless mini-cab trade. Their unemployed offspring consume each other out and around the bleak, '60s-designed and graffiti-ridden project.

The power of this film builds through witty episodes-mainly in cruelty and miscommunication between the sexes. Penny suffers chronically because of Phil's lazy listlessness and at the hands of her abusive, unemployed and overweight son. Sexy Samantha seeks to steal her friend's violent boyfriend, while torturing the local loner with his own lust. Most of them fade in and out with seemingly no connection, until the pattern of conflict becomes painfully clear at the end.

Phil's pretentious cabfare, Cecile, a French art dealer, hits upon Leigh's characteristic humor. Through her brusque assessments of Phil's situation (i.e. "Your son, is he fat like you?"), he is forced to own up to himself the absurdity of his inertia.

Similar to the film that gained Leigh international recognition, "Life is Sweet," "All or Nothing" molds a powerful statement from mundane realizations, plotted loosely to give his actors an obvious leeway of interpretation and improvisation. Stated plainly, Penny's son's heart attack precipitates a crisis and reevaluation of the relationships and purpose of the members of these three families. But the crisis never finds a conclusion-and that's OK, because life is a bloodless battlefield. The youger generation blinks, and they are parents; the elder turn about and death is facing them.

If "All or Nothing" is teleologically sound as a Bartok sonata, its cohesiveness is pronounced by soundly antiheroic characters. Unlike "Naked" and "Topsy Turvy," inwhich action is driven by the discovery and drive of an outstanding character, what isn't done and not said carries the burden of proof.

The triumph of the penultimate scene is a slow-as-molasses zoom shot of almost fifteen minutes in which Phil pours the anxiety of the past fifteen years over Penny, and she responds with the most genuine and slow-moving acceptance of his long neglected perspective.

Leigh soundly trumps the materialism that suffuses his protagonists lifestyles with an epiphany that strikes them from a fourth perpendicular. They each must make a choice whether to value life in its entirety, or not at all.

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