Thursday, 7 January 2016

An image from Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet, in which a young plumber hangs a spoon taken from her father's restaurant from the frame of a print of Edgar Degas's 1876 painting L'étoile, depicting a young, jubilant ballet dancer on stage as the imposing, turbulent presence of a man dressed in black threatens to overwhelm the theatre. In this house in North London, the mother’s lingering over a shelf of trophies while polishing indicates she was, at one stage, a dancer of some prestige, and that dancing is still very dear to her; in the film’s opening scene, she is seen teaching a children’s dance class. The spoon, conversely, is taken from the restaurant after its presence on the kitchen floor caused the father to slip and break his leg; he later jovially describes the spoon as “evil”. But this spoon, much like the painting, is more than a simple souvenir or decoration. Placed together, as they are by the daughter, they represent dreams that never panned out; lives filled with pain, disappointment, and regret. But rather than hide from this sadness, these objects are given pride of place in a home; a family home. Perhaps not an ideal home, or even an ideal family, but a family and a home nonetheless - and isn’t that enough reason to celebrate? Like the dancer in the painting, gracefully persevering through the darkness with a determined smile on her face, or the “evil” spoon, facetiously brandished as a weapon and taken precisely as seriously as a spoon should be, why not look on the bright side? A fake laugh is still a laugh. Living is its own reward. Life is sweet, after all.

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