The Kiss of Death (1977)

27 11 2008

Another very impressive early feature from Mike Leigh. This one is a bit more accessible, and by result, a bit lighter than Bleak Moments. It is a bit closer to being a formally conventional film with many of the minimalistic elements of that film replaced with a slightly more conscious “comedic” sensibility. Leigh’s insightful observations remain, though, and they are still the most essential part of his work. The characters are still rather difficult to sympathize with, but in this particular case, their interactions are quite funny. I guess some people are turned off by Leigh’s more upbeat approach here, but I don’t think it makes this film any less natural.

Considering the much more light and charming tone, this does fit closer to being Leigh’s version of an Ozu film, at least more so than Bleak Moments. Of course, the strength of both directors lies in their abilities to balance the comedic with the tragic. Here, Leigh begins to closely associate the two tones in the way that Ozu’s best work often does. Sometimes the funniest scenes are also the most heartbreaking. In other words, there are more than a few sequences that “hit close to home” here, even though I can’t help but find the characters to be slightly obnoxious at times.

That is essentially the only thing that keeps this from being a masterpiece. For a majority of its running time, I felt as though this was better than Bleak Moments. That film, for all its awkward mumbling glory, could use a smile or two. Ultimately, Leigh redeems himself with one of his most formally austere films. This film, on the other hand, is a tad bit bland, but seems to have the ever important element of humor. While I cannot relate completely to Trevor, I do find many of his attempts at human interaction to be very bittersweet. On the other hand, I find his temper, though only subtly hinted at, to be the sort of dramatic element that keeps me from calling this a masterpiece. It’s a wonderful film, no doubt, but I could have done without some of the “serious” narrative turns.

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6 responses

28 11 2008
Jake Aesthete

I knew you’d see the Ozu connection, with the jaunty, cheerful music and all! Unfortunately, you won’t find another Leigh film close to being as minimalistic and austere as Bleak Moments. The director himself has said that he doesn’t care much for his first film, and finds it too long and slow (his loss, i know…).

Speaking solely for myself, i actually find Trevor’s character extremely easy to relate to, and his “temper” as you say is actually a big part of that. That scene where they’re in the car and he suddenly yells at Linda is one of my favorite scenes, for exactly that reason. Of course, that’s just me though.

I also think the “serious” narrative turns, as you call them, are actually very important to the film. For example, i assume you are referring to the scene where the neighbor’s mother faints on the stairs. This scene is crucial because it shows a different aspect of Trevor’s personality. Up until that moment he’s completely subdued, possibly even a bit dim, but that scene shows that he can actually take charge in certain situations, and probably because of his job he knows how to deal with those type of situations very well. Throughout the film he’s always laughing inappropriately, but that scene shows that he actually has a very serious and responsible side. This moment is crucial for everything that happens subsequently, when he and Linda go back to her flat. She’s interested in him from that moment on, specifically because of what he demonstrated about himself.

I actually really like this aspect of Leigh’s films, that although his plots are essentially very spare and simple, he’s actually revealing a lot about his characters through their dynamics and the situations he conceives. The plot is minimal, but nearly every scene is very important to understanding the characters.

28 11 2008
Jake Savage

I guess I was being a bit too vague when talking about “serious” narrative turns? Perhaps just turns in the tone? An example would be that scene where Linda asks Trevor if he wants to kiss her and he just goes on giggling for five minutes. It seemed like it was trying a bit too hard to imply that he actually had some dark secret, which was complimented by his violent outburst in the very end. Without those scenes, I would definitely agree that he’s to relate to. Maybe I see myself in a slightly flattering light, but I don’t seem to have that “careless asshole” sensibility. An Ozu film wouldn’t have a scene like that, which I’m guessing isn’t a positive for you, but it is for me.

These two early Leigh films I’ve seen remind me more of Fassbinder’s Rio Das Mortes and Pioneers in Ingolstadt, which were also made for TV.

For the record, I actually think the scene with the old lady is really great and random. One of the most likable scenes in the entire film.

28 11 2008
Jake Aesthete

You mean what you didn’t like was the “kiss of death” scene?! That’s the pinnacle of the whole film! I don’t see why it should imply any “dark secret” about Trevor’s past or anything like that, i think it’s very similar to the the post-date scene in [b]Bleak Moments[/b].

28 11 2008
Jake Savage

That one seemed a bit more understandable to me, but it made him seem a lot more unlikable. Thinking about it more, I don’t think there’s another “better” way for that scene to work. I guess I’m just bothered by slightly obnoxious traits that characters can display, especially when I can identify to such a character with exception to those irritating quirks. I guess that’s what makes the film so realistic, though…

28 11 2008
Jake Aesthete

Abigail’s Party should be an interesting one for you then… the most obnoxious characters ever, but it’s pretty amazing to watch, at least to me.

28 11 2008
Jake Aesthete

I should see those Fassbinders, too.

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