Another Year (2010): United Kingdom – directed by Mike Leigh
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language
When writing about Blue Valentine [review here] I commented that few films these days mention staying in love, as it is so popular to fall in love, over and over again. My comments may have been short-sighted, even if Another Year does not entirely nullify the sentiment. Another Year contains a long-married couple who are the roots of the film, surrounded by a great deal of rotten fruit. But even this rotten fruit is portrayed honestly, and tragically, and with such a surprisingly old, happy married couple at the core the film is well worth the time for viewers interested in character dramas.
Mike Leigh’s newest film is certainly a character drama. There are events that happen during the course of the film, but little in the way of plot. Instead the film charts out a number of happenings over the course of a year in the life of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen).
Tom is a geologist who spends his working time digging holes to test soil quality and composition. Gerri is a counselor at a nearby hospital. In their spare time they tend their allotment, a small plot of land they farm. They enjoy cooking the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor, and are satisfied with a quiet dinner and a glass of wine with friends.
One of their friends is Mary (Lesley Manville), a co-worker of Gerri’s. They’ve been friends for years, though Mary has a difficult life. She’s lonely and probably in her mid-forties, eager to find someone to be with but hesitant to admit that a man is what she wants. Another friend is Ken (Peter Wight), an overweight and utterly miserable slob who can do nothing but feel sorry for himself. The world has gotten younger and louder, and he’s stuck in the same flat with the same job.
Gerri and Tom have a son, Joe (Oliver Maltman). He is better-adjusted than his parent’s friends, and surely makes his parents proud with his maturity. There are some other characters, too, including Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley), Joe’s cousin Carl (Martin Savage), and a young lady named Katie (Karina Fernandez). It would be a shame to spoil much more of the interactions amongst these characters, for watching it unfold slowly is what provides satisfaction for the viewer.
I would hesitate to say that Another Year is a fun film, but it is not depressing or gloomy. It is slow, and unfolds as a flower budding from the snow-strewn grass. The camera lingers on a face, often for a painful amount of time. There are vast stretches of complete silence, with little or no intrusion by a soundtrack or dialogue. There are happy moments, as Tom and Gerri enjoy their quiet life together. There are sad moments, as when Mary has a few too many glasses of wine and finally opens up honestly. Her face is wrinkled with pain. There are more pathetic moments, as Ken eats, drinks, and smokes almost all at the same time, with the speed of a dog consuming its first meal in days. There are awkward moments, when a relationship proves unrequited and one party acts abominably toward another.
But Tom and Gerri are the heart of the film, and the mind, and occasionally discuss their friends with one another. Each life is characterized by a person’s choices, and oftentimes a long series of poor decisions has resulted in a miserable existence. The world is not out to get Mary, or Ken, though they talk as though it were. No, their lives are a result of how they act, and what they do. Tom and Gerri understand this, but also understand that their friends need help, and generally act rather kindly toward everyone. It is refreshing to see a sweet, loving couple of this age, though perhaps it is not surprising that a British film is the one brave enough to have such characters.
There is an audience for Another Year, and patient viewers interested in people’s lives and how they live them will greatly appreciate the film. It is stoically shot, but infused with human emotion. There are many close-ups of faces, that most interesting feature of a human being. There are also riveting performances. Manville has received the most critical praise, and she is wonderful. She is pathetic as a lost puppy caught in the rain, and even if her problems are largely her own fault she is interesting to watch. Broadbent and Sheen are firmly grounded and admirable, as is the supporting cast.
While many viewers will enjoy the slow pace and gentle unfolding of these characters’ lives, casual movie-goers will be put off by the silence and the lack of action. This is not an American film, and wouldn’t be found in American theaters at all were it plastered with Mike Leigh’s name. I was able to revel in the quiet, though it occasionally tested my patience and is perhaps a slight bit too long. But I was interested in these lives, and am very glad to have spent two-plus hours experiencing them.