ANOTHER YEAR is another victory for Mike Leigh. How he is able to write and create characters that embody the problems we all see around us and in us is nothing short of a little miracle. This film is a microcosm of extended families and how they circle around the wounded members like feral animal groups, protecting, feeding, tending and nurturing even the most impaired ones so that they know they are safe. Leigh tackles a number of problems we are seeing in our society - alcoholism, drug dependency, depression, coping with death, dissociation between child and parent, aging, retirement, an other forms of human frailties and instead of preaching about them he simply places his characters representing these problems before us for our consideration.
The film opens quietly with an interview between a severely depressed insomniac Janet (Imelda Staunton) and a kind healthcare provider Tanya (Michele Austin): Janet just wants sleeping pills but finally agrees to accept Tanya's advice to seek counseling - Janet's counselor is Gerri (Ruth Sheen) who happens be one half of the couple that glues this film together, her husband being geologist Tom (Jim Broadbent). This opening encounter sets the tone for the film: there are those who are genuinely happy (Tom and Gerri, both at retirement age but very close and share their hobby of gardening with the many friends who seek solace in their presence. They have a son Joe (Oliver Maltman) who visits often, alone, sensitive about the fact that he is 30 and without a mate. Their other friends in various stages of neediness include Mary (Lesley Manville, in a stunning performance) as divorced and deserted alcoholic whose loquacious self-centered personality usually ends her visits by sleeping over, unable to drive. Mary feels her problems will resolve if she has a car and proceeds to buy a used car that is as undependable and prone to problems as is Mary. Of interest, Gerri, Tanya and Mary all work in the same establishment and Tanya is also a frequent guest at Tom and Gerri's comfortable and comforting home. Another frequent visitor is Tom's friend Ken (Peter Wight), an aging and lonely obese man who drinks constantly and fears going to his own quite empty solitary house: he is so desperate for female companionship that he approaches the needy Mary who will have nothing to do with him. Mary fantasizes a pairing with Joe, but the fantasy crashes when Joe finally brings home a girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez).
The film is divided into seasons - spring, summer, autumn, winter - and as the seasons pass the only evidence of progress is the well ended garden of Tom and Gerri, a garden that is as happy and productive as its owners. As winter approaches a new character is introduced - Tom's brother Ronnie (David Bradley) has just lost his wife when he discovers her dead body beside him one morning. He turns to Tom and Gerri for support and they with their extended family attend the simple funeral, a funeral completed by the time Ronnie's absentee angry son Carl (Martin Savage) arrives. In the tiny wake that follows the camera dwells on each of the faces of the 'tribe' - lingering last on the empty vessel of Mary - and begs the question 'Why can some people find happiness while others cannot even imagine it?.'
Writer/director Mike Leigh's ability to create profoundly moving stories simply by placing his camera on ordinary people's lives is a unique gift as a filmmaker. He is less interested in presenting answers as in posing questions, and he is aided in this successful effort with the work of some of Britain's finest actors. This is a gentle but powerful film. Grady Harp, July 11
on December 27, 2012
Much has been written about this film already and I will try not to retrace ground already covered. It is not a film for those who want tidy endings or a formulaic sequence of feel-good moments. Those negative reviewers who say they hate it are perhaps telling us more about themselves than about the film. But I will grant that it takes a certain perspective to appreciate all that is going on in this beautifully crafted work of art.
I came to the reviews to find out what others thought of the film because I was deeply moved by it. Now, I am close in age to many of the main characters, and can relate in some way to all of them, so maybe that is part of the reason it hit me so hard. Whatever the reasons, I gained real insight about human development, the root of loneliness, and the components of contentment.
Gerri and Tom are beautiful people who radiate an almost saintly magnetism but with all the traits of real people. Can we hope to achieve their level of maturity? You can watch the film just to enjoy their resonant calm.
The tension in the movie is created by the various wounded individuals who come and go, particularly the central character Mary. Lesley Manville's portrayal of Mary is impressively achingly believable. The changes in this character from the beginning of the film to the end are subtle and rich. With seemingly only the movement of her eyes and turn of her mouth we feel how deeply she is descending into grief about all the possibilities that have slipped away. As other reviewers have noted, Mary is by turns self-absorbed, flawed, deluded, and desperate, but lovable at the end in her epiphany and continued hope in the wrong things (i.e. a romance).
When Gerri, towards the end of the film, tells Mary she needs to talk to a professional, we see how resistant the psyche can be to admitting it's own troubles. We see how hard it is to shift out of old patterns of thought and longing, how hard it is to wake up to who we really are.
As a viewer I wanted to tell Mary to just relax, to take stock of what she had going for her, to spend some time developing and appreciating herself. But the bright sparks of fortune she has in her life seem to dwindle under the darkness of mortality and her fear of loneliness.
There is a complex "message" in the film. Something to do with facing what is, thinking of others, and generally growing up. The story's fabric contains sub-threads about social skills, the advantages of intelligence/education, and how we get stuck.
Mary's "style" of interacting with others is similar to Joe's girlfriend Katie's style (both extroverted and lively), but while both are interestingly animated, Mary's escalates to a manic level before crashing. Part of the attraction of the film is trying to figure out what makes Katie's style work so well, while Mary's overloads the nerves. Are we looking at the same basic person in different contexts?
I have not seen other films by Mike Leigh, but if this one is anything to go on, I have some enjoyable viewing ahead of me!
on December 11, 2014
One thing's for sure, this Blu-ray edition of Another Year looks and sounds sharp
as a tack, just a gorgeous, clean, clear print, one advantage of the new tech.,
a quite recent film, and a really good transfer, and some great extras as well.
Anyway, I liked Another Year despite its bleakness and sadness, if you know Mike Leigh
you'll be prepared for what to expect. Not necessarily loads of laughs but you watch his films for the acting,
the characters, his take on life, and many other things. Some of it I found definitely
depressing so if this is not for you, don't watch the film. There seems to be no easy
answers given by Leigh for the troubled friends/family of the main couple Tom and Gerri,
but knowing Leigh's previous works, that is the point, especially given the troubling
and depressing final scene. Mary kind of tries the couple's patience towards the end
a bit, but this is reality and reflects real people in "real" life. Leigh shows the extent
of their fast friendship but strains start to show, and as always, the filmmaker
does not pull punches.
Will the character Mary, played superbly by Leslie Manville ever find lasting happiness,
as she seems to be heading for a nervous breakdown, or worse, by film's end? Leigh refuses
to wrap things up neatly, or give us these and other answers to the various characters'
problems and relationships, such as her or Tom's brother's troubled and angry distant/estranged
son from Yorkshire, who arrives for his mother's funeral (late) in the final segment and we
see he's angry and estranged, but we really never find out why, plus, you only see him
at this stressful time in the family's history, etc. And again, that seems to be the deliberate
point: the character shows up, he's angry, he's troubled, he's upset, and then he cannot
cope so he disappears from his dad's apt. and is out of the film.
This film is not about action. It does not resolve itself. Leigh explains to you what the film
is about DIRECTLY on his commentary track, friendship, loneliness, neediness, love, lack of it,
why some are happy and some people never, it seems, etc. It is in equal measure uplifting
AND often depressing, grim, and dark and despairing.
Through it all, the couple Tom and Gerri carry the whole thing with their friendship, warmth,
and generosity and patience, but Leigh also shows that they are human beings and aren't "perfect" either, nor is their son who is
a nice enough sort but is your typical guarded, professional but not too "user friendly"
type of human being, although he's also by no means portrayed as a monster, he has his
own flaws and the actor that portrays him shows this brilliantly.
Ultimately I found the film emotionally exhausting but worth the effort since it's Mike Leigh, and even though I would
not rate it nearly his finest effort, it's a worthy one but absolutely NOT for everyone.
If you don't like real life kitchen sink type British dramas about real people, and
want action, horror, straight comedy, etc., look elsewhere. I had a rough time with much of this
film, as with many of Leigh's other films, but I stuck with it because the acting and
overall execution of the film is seriously that good. P.S. This could be seen, in a sense,
as kind of a late post-script to High Hopes, a 1988 film by Leigh, for many reasons,
connections, Phil Davis showing up and some other actors carrying over and having
aged etc., but I think Another Year is clearly the better film, more recent or not.
Another Year is much more assured, of course, and it takes its sweet time, it never rushes or hurries to
establish itself or its characters' lives or complex emotions/relationships.
And I don't think it's ever boring, unless you just don't like films that aren't concerned
with total plot over character. I wouldn't say this is an "art house" film, like I would
have said years ago the less-than-enthralling Peter's Friends could be perhaps
said to be, but it IS concerned with real-life drama and real people, and difficult
subject matter, sometimes depressing, troubling, but if you can handle that,
if you're ready for it, this film should reward you.
Even Peter Wight (the optimistic yet lonely security guard vs. acerbic Dave Thewlis in Leigh's NAKED) delivers some
real, raw emotion and (as always) some cracking fine acting here, even though even this is merely
a cameo in this particular film. You wonder if he's going to "hook up" somehow with
Mary, the two lonely middle-aged characters kind of need one another but she's simply not attracted
to him, and this is a reflection of real life, sadly, not some fantasy Hollywood romantic phony movie world.
I wanted to also see more of the great Phil Davis but didn't get much of him here, more's the pity.
Mary seems to be attracted to the couple's younger son, the housing lawyer: of course they never
hook up, and Mary's resentment and disappointment/desperation is palpable, but Leigh refuses
to take the easy way out of/or to resolve, any of these (often) awkward relationships. This, besides
Leigh's primary theme here of simply, friendship, is/are the glue(s) that hold this admittedly thorny