October 2, 2008 / 5:07 PM / 10 years ago

Just a Minute With: English director Mike Leigh

NEW YORK (Reuters) - English director Mike Leigh has been praised for his award-winning films that cast a critical and realistic eye on British society through gritty, heartbreaking characters.

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

His new film, “Happy-Go-Lucky,” set to be released in the United States October 10, has some saying he is at last looking on the bright side of life with the film centering on Poppy, a free-spirited London teacher who is perpetually optimistic.

But Leigh, 65, who began his career as a theater director and playwright, says such judgments are simplistic and the film is not so different from his Academy-award nominated other films including “Vera Drake” and “Secrets & Lies”.

Q. Why do you describe this as an “anti-miserablist” film?

A. “There is much cause to be gloomy and pessimistic in the world but there are people out there getting on with it, notwithstanding teachers like Poppy who are cherishing and nurturing the future.”

Q. You cite things like destroying the planet as an example of today’s gloom and cynicism. What other particular world events or issues may have inspired you in your thoughts about countering that?

A. “My job as a filmmaker and a storyteller is instinctively to tap into the zeitgeist and get on with it and tell stories of the particular and so when I talk about ‘we are destroying the planet and destroying each other’, you and I both know what that means and it is not a particular event, it is the general condition.”

Q. How do you consider yourself in relation to such talk about optimism?

A. “The truth is if you are asking if I am an optimist or pessimist, I am both. And there is cause to be both, but that is part of life isn’t it.”

Q. Reviewers have said that with this film you have finally found a reason to be cheerful.

A. “The bottom line is it’s more complex than just that.”

Q. Can you describe then what your films are about?

A. “My films look at how we live and how we relate to each other and surviving and working and relationships, love and frustrations and difficulties ... a lot of my films — not this one in particular — dealt with different aspects of having children and not having children, being adopted, being given away and this film is concerned with education.”

Q. Are you tired of people saying you a master of depicting working class life and talking about class?

A. “I don’t talk about it because I don’t think you can tell stories about society anywhere in the world without some kind of, I mean, class finds itself everywhere. You certainly can’t make films in England without class being included in some intricate way as part of the texture and landscape, but the idea that I ‘make films about class’ is ridiculous.”

Q. How long are you going to keep working?

A. “Until I drop. I have too many things to do yet.”

Reporting by Christine Kearney, editing by Patricia Reaney

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