Another Year (2011)
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Peter Wight
My Rating: 9/10
In Short: Admirably captures the beauty of seasonal change
Of all the great British directors, I feel like Mike Leigh is the one who simply doesn’t get enough respect. Sure, there are a lot of people who do admire and revere him, but not enough. To me, he is the greatest film director ever to have descended from the isle of Britain. His latest film, Another Year, has been a hit with critics but seems to have flown past audiences outside of Britain. It’s not quite indie, not quite mainstream… so what is it?
It’s delightful. It’s sad. It’s beautiful. It is a film destined to be timeless and hopefully cherished for a long time. It’s a very rare film in that it managed to give me the biggest smile I’ve ever had on my face during a film, and also the most sombre frown of sadness. Leigh, who directed the masterpieces Naked and Secrets & Lies, shows here that he always has been and shall remain a top class, memorable filmmaker. His films can tap down to the deepest hidden roots of the human soul. He can create some of cinema’s most outrageous, emotional but still incredibly realistic characters. There are times when you don’t know when to laugh or cry.
Another Year is a film split into two distinct halves. The first half is light and bubbly, and the second is sad, slow and excruciatingly awkward. I don’t mean that in a bad way – the second half contains the best moments of the film, and it also harbours the drama with which Leigh shows how he can truly shine. Overall, the film is magnificent, and almost perfect, an amazing motion picture likely to have you in tears of laughter, or maybe just in tears.
We meet Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen), the protagonists, and see that they have been married for more than thirty years, and are still very much in love. The connection they have is sadly rare for married couples these days – they never fight, and always treat each other with affection – not so much that they become a pair of doting lovers, but it’s easy to see they’re very happy with each other. Then enter Mary. Mary is a friend of Gerri’s who works with her; she’s in her thirties, she’s an alcoholic, and she’s desperately clinging for affection. She talks in quick sentences, so fast we’re unable to keep up. At first we see her as comic and funny, but as the film goes on, Leigh manages to give us a great big slap in the face for laughing at such a frail, sad woman. It becomes apparent very quickly that she needs help – she can’t stop drinking, and has several strokes of ugly bad luck because of it. There is one incredibly awkward scene where she has a cup of coffee with Tom’s brother, and the two sit silently for a while, drinking and smoking. There is a feeling of enormous tension. Mary looks distraught, as if she is about to explode, scream and cry buckets of tears.
The very distinct difference in tone between the first two halves is marked by the arrival of the four seasons: spring and summer in the first half, autumn and winter in the second. Death strikes in Tom’s family, and when they go to Tom’s sister in-law’s funeral, the awkward tension first arises. Leigh is a master at capturing awkward tension – it’s apparent in so many of his films. It’s not the kind that makes us want to turn the film off and do something else. It’s enough to keep us glued to the screen; it takes our attention and retains it wilfully, as we adjust to the pace of the film and allow it’s plot and beauty to fill us leisurely. There is beauty in the saddest things, Leigh believes, and although the film doesn’t end happily, there is the vague hope that things could change – not a false hope; not a wasted hope, but a real hope. With the arrival of spring and summer, we must sweep our troubles under the carpet and embrace the light of more hopeful days.
So… what do you think of the film? Leave a comment below.