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Virtual Screening: Naked

This week's virtual screening is British urban existentialist tale, Naked, exposing the gritty life a homeless man lives on the streets of London. As ever, it's accompanied by an in-depth review by our film-buff Wael Khairy.

Naked is Mike Leigh’s best film to date and arguably the best British film since Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. This urban existentialist tale set in the underbelly of London centers around Johnny, an intellectual hobo drifting around the city having philosophical conversations with friends and strangers. Like all great films, it is not about one thing, but everything. Here’s a film that isn’t afraid to break the boundaries of conventional cinema. Like its central character, it drifts into the unknown, leaving the viewer deep in thought about life, death, evolution, God and what it all means in the grand scope of things.

Besides, David Thewlis’ marvelous performance, the larger-than-life dialogue feels real, authentic and genuine. You’ll forget you’re even watching a movie hearing words flowing so naturally out of tongues of our characters. Since, this is a Mike Leigh film, this comes as no surprise. The shooting script was only 25 pages long, and Leigh is a strong believer in improvisation. It is said, for this film, he simply brought up a theme and let his actors chat it out. The result is nothing short of breathtaking. We don’t see actors acting, but actors reacting.

Most films are trapped in being acts, and by acts I mean limited by the elements that go into making a movie. You have a screenplay you should memorise, a director telling you what to do, and a camera floating around capturing a fixed story that has been predetermined by everyone involved. Mike Leigh’s Naked evolved through the making of the film. What we get at the end is a compilation of the kind of deep conversations you can only have with a complete stranger. You can’t make this stuff up. There is no way you can sit in front of a typewriter, computer or stack of plain papers and come up with words so honest, contradicting and eloquently evocative.

It obliges the presence of another great mind, a sparring conversationalist who will bounce off your ideas, disagree with your perspective on life, and elevate the argument to a whole new level. Like the deepest conversations you’ve had with other curious beings on this lonely planet, Naked is a rarity that you only stumble upon once or twice in a lifetime. It will leave you awe-struck with ideas and theories and random metaphysical thoughts will be rushing uncontrollably through your head.

I deliberately choose not to ponder on the themes this film dares to put on the table, because it would be a one-sided conversation. For the first time in my years of writing about film, I can’t help but fight the urge to write my thoughts, for Naked is about the way we interact with people. I’d be more than happy to debate with fellow readers what it all means, but the truth is, some things are better left unsaid, or at least left for those rare occasions when we bump into one another, willing to spill it all out. Let the film speak for itself, and take out of it whatever you need to evolve in this little time we have on this earth.

So this CairoScene piece is less a definitive analysis than it is a letter of urgency to all you fellow cinephiles out there to check it out. I’ve found it; a film that will still linger in your thoughts when you’re an old chap waiting to be transported into the mysterious world beyond mortality.

The film doesn’t start out great, but rather arrives to its greatness. In fact, it starts with our main character raping a girl in a dark alley in Manchester, perhaps the most off-putting opening scene in all of cinema. Naked requires patience and I can’t stress enough how proud and thankful you’ll be when you make it all the way through. For me, the scene, about an hour in, involving the building security guard is when I first realised that I was watching something extraordinary. I know most readers or viewers will shut the film off before it arrives there, but I urge you to give it a chance; it may be the most rewarding experience you’ll have in years. Mike Leigh’s Naked is a fictional film that is more true to reality than the way we choose to live our lives. At one point, the film arrives at a very simple yet powerful line, “Don’t waste your life.”  You would be if you missed out on this. 


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