Secrets & Lies (1996)

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Starring: Brenda Blethyn, Timothy Spall, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Phyllis Logan, Claire Rushbrook (her film debut)

Director: Mike Leigh

Summary: A successful black woman discovers that her birth mother is a lower-class white woman. As emotions run high, everyone’s secrets are exposed.

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Blethyn), Supporting Actress (Jean-Baptiste), Original Screenplay

In terms of style, story and especially score, this feels like an elevated film student movie, but it goes beyond those trappings and is quite good. There’s almost no editing or camera movement in the entire film, presumably because the director wanted it to feel like the audience is a fly on the wall looking at this family drama that is really happening in front of them, and those things would only serve to break that illusion. Also to this end, most of the movie was unscripted, and the actors  only knew what their characters knew-the actors reactions to revelations are genuine. The result is a movie that look and feels like no previous Best Picture nominee, for both good and bad. The performances are very good on the whole-Blethyn is excellent as the fragile and frustrated birth mother of Jean-Baptiste’s character, Spall does a good job as the pillar of a complicated family who is dealing with baggage of his own, and Jean-Baptiste herself does a good job as the outsider to the family who eventually has to deal with herself no longer being an outsider. The two big centerpiece scenes (the first conversation between Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste and the big climax) are also executed beautifully. There’s only two things I would criticize: 1) it has the most generic “artsy movie sad violin and mandolin” score I’ve ever seen, like something out of a pretentious student film and 2) it feels slightly bloated and I don’t know if we need as many of the scenes with Spall as we get. Overall, good movie with good performances and the stylistic choices are effective.

Rating: B

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