Mike Leigh’s Another Year (12s) 2hrs 9mins
Stars: Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, Lesley Manville, Oliver Maltman, Karina Fernandez, David Bradley, Peter Wight.
My introduction to Mike Leigh’s films was the Siskel and Ebert review of Life is Sweet from 1991. When Roger Ebert said, “Our next movie is Life is Sweet. The Wonderful, very funny and very touching new film by Mike Leigh” when I heard the passion in Ebert’s voice I knew I had to buy all of Leigh’s films. Now I’ve seen his latest masterpiece Another Year. It could be his most subtle film. It is certainly one never to be forgotten. Another Year is about a geologist called Tom (Jim Broadbent) and a medical counsellor called Gerri (Ruth Sheen) a husband and wife in their late fifties who live in suburban London. Who care for their friend Mary (Lesley Manville) who suffers from alcoholism. The film takes place over the four seasons of the year. This synopsis describes it perfectly “Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Family and friendship. Love and warmth joy and sadness, hope and despair. Companionship. Loneliness. A birth. A death. Time passes….. It is a film about these things and more. It is cinema at the top of its form. So subtle, no back-stories, no sub plots, just life told through the eyes of Mike Leigh and his actors.
Mary’s main problem with alcoholism is rejection from the men in her life. In The Spring, we learn about this and about Ken (Peter Wight) an overweight man who is an old friend of Tom’s and also continues to battle with rejection. We meet Tom and Gerri’s son Joe (Oliver Maltman) and later his girlfriend Katie (Karina Fernandez) who discuss traveling to Paris together amongst all things. We meet Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley) and the burden he has to deal with, with his son Carl (Martin Savage) and other things. We also have small roles for the excellent Phil Davis and Imelda Staunton of Vera Drake (2004) The performances are excellent all round. But, the film belongs to Lesley Manville, who gives a performance; which is riveting and emotionally drained with true authenticity, you really believe that Tom and Gerri have been married for thirty years. You really believe and empathize with Mary’s pain. You believe everything. Leigh’s pacing, along with the camera and the editing is perfect. He has not lost his touch.
Mike Leigh loves his actors. When I watched the scenes with Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen I thought of High Hopes (1988) The scene when Jim Broadbent goes to work reminded me of his character Andy the chef in the kitchen in Life is Sweet (1990) when I saw the scene with Phil Davis and Ruth Sheen I thought of High Hopes again! There is a brief exchange between Phil Davis and Lesley Manville and I remembered Grown-Ups (1980) The passing of time… it is very evident with these wonderful actors and their careers.
Is there anything more painful to see a desperate woman flirting with her best friends’ son and failing at it? You can feel the wounds and sorrow and you see it in Lesley Manville’s beautiful and worn face. Mark Cousins said “The whole point about cinema, surely, is the close-up of the human face” The scene were Mary first meets Katie is heartbreaking because Mary feels rejected by Joe and manipulated by a woman who has higher qualifications than her.
Ciaran Carty, film critic of The Sunday Tribune wrote “Cinema is about people: make the characters believable human beings and you’ve got a film.
You can feel the cold in the scenes of the winter season, and its claustrophobia. Dick Pope’s cinematography is masterly and beautiful throughout.
Roger Ebert wrote these words in his reviews of the following
1. Almost Famous (2000) “Oh, what a lovely film. I was almost hugging myself while I watched it”.
2. Ghost World (2001) “I wanted to hug this movie. It takes such a risky journey and never steps wrong”.
3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995) Oh, this movie is so sad! It is sad not because of the tragic lives of its characters, but because of their goodness and their charity”.
These quotes sum up the beginning, middle and end of Another Year for me. I quote Roger Ebert and Mark Cousins because they thought me everything I know about how to express my love of film through prose.