Watched Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake” w/ Imelda Staunton in it the other night. Possibly his best (though dont we all like Naked)? Imelda’s performance and Leigh’s tight close ups reminded me of the Passion of Joan of Arc, and something Gilles Deleuze had to say about the face in film.
He suggests that in film, the face is used to capture two kinds of affect, or rather that the face has two affective modes: one is expressive (and angry face, hurt face, a face expressing the individual’s feelings); the other is impressive/reflective (when the face is used in a reaction shot to reflect back to us what’s happening in the scene).
Imelda’s face goes through these transformations during the film, and at the one pivotal moment that is the crux of the story, that show her face literally wiped clean of its expressive charm and captured by external forces. Brilliant.
For a filmmaker to see the potential in an actor to do that — and to hang the film on that. It’s as if he gives us the story, which is one of Imelda’s personal perseverance and choice set against societal codes, in one slow, dawning realization. Her performance was incredible.