Another Year (2010)

11 Apr

With a minimum of fuss, Mike Leigh has become one of cinema’s most fascinating auteurs, crafting a rich and diverse body of work in the face of growing hostility towards distinctive independent voices. At a time when world cinema is becoming increasingly beholden to the trends emanating from the USA, Leigh’s uniquely British meditations on the tragedy and absurdity of everyday life manage to be artistically rewarding, critically lauded, commercially accessible and economically viable.

Divided into seasons, ‘Another Year’s’ premise is as slight as one would expect from Leigh, following a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a geologist and counsellor who have been together since meeting at university. Tom and Gerri hold regular get-togethers at their home, inviting an assortment of people who seem to be struggling to find their way – there is Mary (Lesley Manville), a manic, garrulous receptionist, Ken (Peter Wright), a hard-drinking, lugubrious old friend of Tom’s and Joe (Oliver Maltman), Tom and Gerri’s bachelor son.

‘Another Year’ focuses on people and predicaments that are so often neglected by mainstream cinema – the lives of those over the age of forty, particularly women, are often invisible to the film industry, and Leigh seeks to redress the balance. Overlapping, conversational dialogue combines with Dick Pope’s sterling cinematography to chart the year’s transition, with each season given a distinct mood. The scenes that occur between the major plot points in most other films take on a deeper significance here by dint of some stellar performances and Leigh’s mastery of establishing tone. The seemingly informal intent of Leigh’s directorial choices are in fact carefully crafted to impart something about the characters’ situation throughout – for instance, Tom and Gerri are together in the majority of shots, while Mary is seemingly stranded in the centre of the frame.

What sets Leigh apart from almost any other director is his approach to actors, giving them the latitude to construct a reality for their characters out of the detailed back stories he concocts; however minor the role. This strategy probably explains why his films are stacked with great performances from top to bottom, but also why the ‘Leigh grotesque’ has also become a fixture of his oeuvre. Indeed, it is one of the chief complaints of his work that the freedom he affords his cast often precludes him from reining them in; David Thewlis’s scenery chewing in ‘Naked’ (1993) being a case in point. Manville takes the mantle here, delivering a grandstanding turn that frequently errs on the wrong side of broad.

Manville’s theatrics are contrasted with a raft of assured contributions across the board. Broadbent and Sheen are the foundation which holds the various narrative strands together, lending depth and subtlety to the almost chocolate box depiction of wedded bliss, their inherent likeability preventing the minutiae of domestic routine from becoming repetitive. Leigh regulars Imelda Staunton and Phil Davis make brief appearances, while David Bradley is quietly devastating as Tom’s Brother and Peter Wight commits so fully to the role of the lonely, overweight, embittered mass of self-loathing that you will genuinely worry for his wellbeing. It speaks to Leigh’s standing amongst actors that he was able to get an actor of Staunton’s calibre to appear in two brief, insignificant scenes.

‘Another Year’ exults in the quirks of behaviour and intricacies of interaction, sticking to a few key locations and relying on the strength of the material and the ability of its cast – traits that put it amongst Leigh’s best work. This is as much a paean to fidelity and stability as an elegy to the ageing process, exploring the various ways in which people deal with the loss of their youth – Mary latching onto the vaguest male approbation, Ken complaining that ‘everything is for young people’, Tom and Gerri seeking solace in each other – with Leigh’s customary tragicomic eye. ‘Another Year’ profoundly states that ‘time is unkind’ and all we have to mitigate its impact is each other’s support.

Time is unkind.

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One Response to “Another Year (2010)”

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