This is the fourth film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2023-24", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 9th annual challenge, and my fifth time participating (previous years can be found at "2019-20", "2020-21", "2021-22", and "2022-23"). Week 4 is called "Palme d'Or Week":
One of the three major film festival top prizes (the other two being the Golden Lion at Venice and the Golden Bear at Berlin, both covered in previous LSCs), the Palme d'Or has been awarded at the Cannes Film Festival since 1946. Originally called the Grand Prize of the International Film Festival, it was changed to a palm in 1955 to represent the city's coat of arms. It's one of the most prestigious awards in cinema, with past winners including Martin Scorsese, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa.
This week's challenge is to watch a Palme d'Or winner.
Secrets & Lies was nominated for 5 Oscars, major ones (Picture, Actress, Supporting Actress, Director, Screenplay), but 1996 was the year of The English Patient, a mediocre, overrated film that somehow won 9 Oscars. At least Cannes got it right. Secrets & Lies is a masterful picture about people, warts and all, stepping gingerly through family life. No one is perfect, but we feel close to all of them, and we want everything to somehow come out all right.
Oddly, the acting is both showy and realistic. Brenda Blethyn is all over the place in a sloppy sort of way ... of course she won awards for her work here. But the acting matches the character, a middle-aged woman with an "illegitimate" daughter who worries that life has passed her by while she keeps secrets (and lies about them). Blethyn also turns inward on a couple of occasions, which contrast with her general blowsiness in powerful ways. It's an actorly performance, but enormously moving.
It's probably a good thing the acting is so good, because the basic story is just that, basic. And there is nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with a story about families, secrets, and lies. But while the narrative seems a bit formulaic in retrospect, that doesn't matter as you watch the actors at work. Marianne Jean-Baptiste's character is the most internal ... she isn't given as many explosive scenes. But neither is the character entirely reactive to others, and as could be said for so many of the film's characters, the acting elevates the character as "written" (Mike Leigh famously doesn't exactly write his films).Secrets & Lies is my fifth Mike Leigh movie, and while I've liked them all, I'd put Secrets & Lies at the top. #494 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.