Recently IFC began broadcasting Mike Leigh’s “Secrets And Lies” (1996) again, giving us an opportunity at a second (or third, or fourth) look. Hortense Cumberbatch (Marianne Jean Baptiste) is a successful thirtysomething who longs for something–she’s never met her biological mother (played by Brenda Blethyn) and was put up for adoption just after birth. Sometimes after the death of her adoptive parents, she sets about reclaiming a mother who is reluctant to link with her. This is all marvelously complicated by the fact that the young woman is black and born out of wedlock and the woman is white and very intent on erasing this stain on her personal life. One of the obvious ironies of the film, the fact that Cumberbatch has become a well-heeled member of society, isn’t exploited lengthily by Leigh, thankfully. Still, the contrast between Cumberbatch’s life in a sundrenched West End flat while her mother rots away in the back of an East London townhouse helps to put things into context. What’s more, the old lass is overlooked by men and rejected by her daughter which underscores the need for the daughter to be reunited with her biological daughter. There’s an overwhelming need for these two women to be together again and one naturally identifies with, no roots for, Cumberbatch as she tries to win her mother back. A little bit about technique: Leigh’s camera shows an unobstructed view of the two womens’ worlds as they slowly come together. We are forced to watch and it causes discomfort, such as the scene in the diner the day of mother’s first encounter with daughter. Notice the camera firmly planted before the two women as they sit side-by-side. Why sit side by side? Is there anything human about mother and daughter reunited after 30, oh, 35 years, and sitting side-by-side. This is when film that fashions itself as unobtrusively realistic veers back into the realm of film within the film. By positioning the two subjects side-by-side during such a long moment, Leigh’s efficiently transfers the tension from that scene onto us.
A great film to watch on second and third view.