Movie: Another Year
Starring: Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen
Writer/Director: Mike Leigh (Naked, Topsy-Turvy)
Duration: 129 mins.
Another Year is about happy people and then some sad ones. About some delightful seasons, and then some gloomier ones. Very little happens in Another Year but it conveys so much. This is a story about humans, not “characters,” with emotions that are natural not contrived to fit the story.
Another Year directly implies that there is nothing special about this moment. These characters (I’d rather say people) react and treat each other how they have their entire lives. There is a husband, Tom Hepple (Jim Broadbent), and wife, Gerri Hepple (Ruth Sheen), who reside in a comfy, established house with a fertile garden in the back. Tom “digs holes” for a living as a geologist, and is married happily to his wife. They have a 30 year-old son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), who is content but single.
It is Mary (Lesley Manville) who disturbs the peace. She visits the Hepple’s with superficial giddiness and after a few bottles of wine, is soused and practically begging for therapy. In a darkly humorous scene, she asks Gerri if she has anything difficult to talk about, which is really Mary just talking to herself. Mary is a woman who has nothing going for her: she smokes, is single, does not cook and looks old for her age. She pretends to be happy, but that just exposes her desperation. Her gatherings with the Hepples are therapy sessions masquerading as friendly discussions.
Gerri is a health councillor and reads depression and angst professionally. But since she leads such a blissful marriage with Tom, the two of them don’t know how to deal with their dejected friends. They also have a male chum named Ken (Peter Wight), who is overweight and just as needy as Mary. He makes a pass on her, but Mary rejects him because he represents too much of her: the desperate part.
Mary is caught in an emotional warp. When she hugs her friends, she can barely let go. She imposes on family affairs and flirts pitiably with the son, Joe. Joe gets a girlfriend named Katie (Karina Fernandez) and Mary is envious. Katie is happy, a free spirit, young and normal. Mary is the opposite of all those things. She loses her identification with Joe’s loneliness and her life is drenched in unalloyed sorrow.
Mike Leigh is a great director, who, like in Happy-Go-Lucky, centres on a very content person or group of people who do not pose any drama for the camera. Leigh is not making a “movie” but a story about life. Life has happiness, sadness and mixed feelings. The Hepples are in pure elation and as the film goes on and the wintry seasons arise, Leigh shifts the central character to Mary. He ought to; she represents winter weather.
There is one bit of tragedy in Another Year, but it doesn’t play out like so. Leigh is not looking to pull any heartstrings, but tell his film through little episodes on life. We encounter a funeral of Tom’s brother Ronnie’s (David Bradley) wife. This third part of the film is more focused on Mary’s indulging despondence as she confides in Ronnie, who is stone-faced with grief.
Another Year, I will remind you, is ideally a slow film, but not for a frame are you bored. Leigh’s script is too sharp and does not rely on pauses, but interruptions and snappy dialogue to push the scenes forward. The script is long-winded, but must be because these disconcerted people have much to say about themselves. When each scene reaches an awkward cessation, Leigh cuts. No one likes an awkward silence—bleak emotions are too exposed then.
Every moment of Another Year is enriching. I never felt for a second Leigh was embellishing his story because he is not interested in plot; he loves the stasis. Life, for Leigh, can be optimistic or cynical—the option is ours.
His script has a behaviour of its own: rapid and rueful in the first half; ponderous and disconsolate in the remainder. The camera barely moves, but when it does (at the end) it moves with perfect grace to one final static shot that transcends the story to its pivotal focus. The last shot left me stranded in wonder.
I was amazed by Lesley Manville’s performance. Her presence snatches the screen from the other characters. I have friends and relatives who remind me of Mary, but that is not an insult to them. I’m sure some would see a little Mary in me. Mary is a haunting, but touching character because she reveals the vulnerability within human nature and that fear of being alone. No one likes to sit in the darkness, especially solo.
But that’s where Another Year succeeds so well. I didn’t revere the film for its plot, huge laughs, grimness, or a magnificent payoff. Payoffs do not belong in Mike Leigh films.
I was admiring these people, these humans, and how much we are like them. When they speak their words, there is so much banter going on, we don’t catch what they say. That is not important: it’s how they say it.
Another Year is made especially brilliant by its performances. Leigh is waving his cinematic wand silently here, but it is the actors who make this a film fascinated about body language. Whenever I am in conversation with someone, I respond to how they gesture more than what they say. That’s the art of human interaction.
Another Year begins at The Screening Room tonight.