February 12, 2008 / 4:49 PM / 10 years ago

Leigh's comedy shows there's hope in a dark world

BERLIN (Reuters) - British director Mike Leigh holds up a hilarious mirror to all the grumpy, miserable, nasty and cynical people in the world with an entertaining comedy about an incorrigibly optimistic and carefree London school teacher.

Director Mike Leigh attends a news conference to present his film "Happy-Go-Lucky" which is running in competition at the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2008. The 58th Berlinale, one of the world's most prestigious film festivals, runs from February 7 to 17 in the German capital. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Fittingly called “Happy-Go-Lucky,” Leigh’s light-hearted film drew laughs and warm applause at its world premiere on Tuesday from an audience of Berlin Film Festival critics who had evidently grown weary of the gloomy films otherwise offered.

“When we’re in a world that’s headed for disaster it’s important to reject the growing fashion of being miserable-ist, pessimistic and gloomy,” said Leigh, who turns 65 next week. “It’s a film that expresses an important feeling.

“Whilst the world is in a bad way everywhere, people on the ground are getting on with it. That’s what the film’s about. It’s about a positive person who confronts things and deals with them and who’s not prepared to be negative.”

Sally Hawkins plays an irrepressible single north London primary school teacher, Poppy, who won’t let her miserable driving instructor, her overbearing Flamenco instructor, a nasty book store clerk or her unhappily pregnant sister get her down.

With an infectious spirit of optimism, she’s always laughing, smiling, cracking one-liners and isn’t worried about the possibility of becoming an old maid or having no pension fund saved away — as her sister reminds her.

Even when the bicycle the 30-year-old teacher so happily rides through the busy streets of London is stolen her first thought is only: “I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”

Leigh, who had three Oscar nominations in 2005 for his gritty film “Vera Drake,” about a back-street abortionist in 1950s London, said he was not deliberately trying to make negative people look ridiculous.

“There’s certainly no nihilistic pleasure in showing these people in a negative way. My job is to show people how they are. There’s good and bad. There’s a lot of negative energy.”

The severe Spanish Flamenco instructor complains when Poppy arrives a minute late, snapping in all sincerity that in Spain people are “always on time.” She also belittles the way Britons pronounce her home town Seville and ruin oranges for marmalade.

The humorless driving instructor epitomizes the anger and frustration of “Little England,” blaming others and erupting into rage when anything goes even slightly wrong.

“Even though it’s a comedy it has a serious intent,” Leigh said. “It’s to share with audiences its spirit so that in some way you might go and reflect on the way you live your life.

“Aside from the realities of pain and suffering, I think it’s equally important we take life and celebrate it wherever and however we can.”

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

Director Mike Leigh attends a news conference to present his film "Happy-Go-Lucky" which is running in competition at the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 12, 2008. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

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