Life Is Sweet
There's a commentary track on the Criterion Collection release of Mike Leigh's "Life is Sweet" that tells you just about everything you need to know about the filmmaker. To say it's one of the best commentaries ever recorded may be a stretch -- it's dry, and brilliant only in moments, much like some of his films -- but for a fan of his work; no less than invaluable.
He explores his work in critical terms, everything from explaining the symbolic use of doorways to addressing some of his detractors (don't call his work "kitchen sink.") But it's more than just a deep reading of the film. It's a crash course in all things Leigh.
He walks you through his process: The way he spends months before shooting not just rehearsing; but rehashing and re-shaping; using his actors as collaborators rather than as communicators. He takes an actor like Jim Broadbent -- here playing Andy, the patriarch of a low-class British family dealing with a menagerie of social and psychological problems in the last waning days of Thatcherism -- and he allows him the privileges of authorship, including the ability to take his character to heights not found in the original script. As Leigh makes clear in the commentary, it helps his films in terms both comic and dramatic. It lets them dig deeper.
You can dig deep into Criterion's disc and find a fair few more extras, including five different 5-minute short films by Leigh and the start of a project that never got off the ground. You also get a Q&A, over an hour long, that Leigh filmed at the National Film Theater.
But it's the commentary, and then watching the film again to see his concepts in reverberation, that sells the disc. He may finally convince you that he's not the nihilistic cynic he's always made out to be. Maybe.
"Life is Sweet"