Another Year by Mike Leigh, 2010
I don’t find myself in any way qualified to review a Mike Leigh film. The man is a legend for his variety of films mostly focusing on the British working-class and his well-known improvisational techniques used to get the very best out of his performers. Although they may lack the gritty texture of other realist films, an exception being Naked, his films are the epitome of realist cinema and it is always a privilege to watch his work.
Leigh’s latest, Another Year, centres on Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a tremendously content older couple living out their peaceful lives in London. The two have a beautiful home, a loving son and grow fresh vegetables in a communal garden outside of town. Tom works as an engineering geologist and Gerri as a councelor at a medical clinic. They frequently have guests over for dinner, during which most of the film’s drama takes place.
The aforementioned guests include the alcoholic Mary (Lesley Manville), a coworker of Gerri’s who is always looking for reassurance that she is either satisfied with being alone or that one day she will find Mr. Right. Then there is Tom’s friend Ken (Peter Wight), an overweight bachelor whose love of food may just be a suppressant for his own sadness. As the guests wine and dine, conversation eventually turns to tears and Tom and Gerri are there to console.
As I watched Another Year, I became more and more frustrated with Tom and Gerri, which I took as a sign of me not liking the film as much as I had hoped. They appear to be the loveliest couple in the world, so I am supposed to like them, right? But I don’t think Leigh meant for the film to be that black and white. This couple isn’t perfect, and like Poppy in Happy-Go-Lucky, a person’s good will creates different reactions in different people – we cannot help everyone. Tom and Gerri continuously harbor these sad cases, even though they don’t look like they are enjoying themselves while doing it. For whatever reason, whether it is pity or genuine concern, they bring these people back into their lives and I found myself annoyed that they did so. But then I realized that maybe this annoyance is granted, and might just be a suitable reaction to Leigh’s work here. The film isn’t simply about good people helping other people in need, but the variety of reasons they do such things and how they come together to interact. Also a rumination on loneliness, the film has various layers to speak of.
The performances in the film are all-around wonderful. Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent are believably in love, and stolen glances here and there show true feelings behind their warm smiles. At first Lesley Manville’s Mary appeared to me as an unbelievable eccentric, but I came to respect Leigh and Manville’s choice to throw her quirks in our face. Mary may seem a bit erratic and strange, but the performance is one that becomes well rounded for it. Anyone else might have gone for something subtler, so it was refreshing to watch a true character creation. A cameo from Imelda Staunton at the beginning of the film is also fantastic.
Another Year's simple construction (the film's events take place over the defined four seasons of one year) can take away from the free-flowing elements of the dialogue and story, but it also allows Leigh to do what he does best: develop intricate characters and relationships, and give us the treat of watching said events unfold.
4 out of 5