' Cinema Romantico: Another Year

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another Year

"She’s something else." This is what a character says about the wine swilling, nerve jangling, ceaselessly chattering, entirely uneasy going Mary, played by Lesley Manville in a performance that has generated a smattering of hype, every last bit of it deserved. Her work could be described as a punch to the stomach, or perhaps to the face, but that just is not enough. It’s the flat side of an oar to the back of the head. It’s a jump into Lake Champlain after a good half-hour in a sauna. It’s a car crash with no airbag in a Steve McQueen movie. As the good friend of our movie’s primary couple you at first watch her and laugh and then you laugh awkwardly and then you stop laughing and just grin as best you can and bear it and then you lose the grin and put your head in your hands because you’re simply unable to take any more of it. It's no wonder a film like "Another Year" gets limited release in America. If this film went wide Panic Marriages in this country would increase by 50%.

Do these people look happy to you?
The film opens with an extended shot of a depressed wife (Imelda Staunton) visiting a doctor because she’s having trouble sleeping. The doctor sends her to a therapist, Gerri (Ruth Sheen), in the same office. Gerri is married to Tom (Jim Broadbent) and they seem to have a happy union, tending to their garden, and hosting their friends, their most present friend, of course, being Mary, who in her first appearance at Gerri and Tom's dinner party tosses back wine and babbles endlessly about purchasing her first car which will allow for “freedom” of which she will take absolutely no advantage, instead finding more reasons to worry, all of which she can babble about over more wine at more dinner parties.

Divided into four acts comprised of the four seasons, the next will find Tom’s old friend, slovenly, utterly single Ken (Peter Wight), coming for visit. He possibly drinks more than Mary, and is in just as dire straits, and maybe sees - or forces himself to see due to a lack of any options - a future with Mary who does not see it, perhaps because she has a too-good-to-be-true image of Mr. Right when considering she long ago found herself married to Mr. Wrong. The third act finds Tom and Gerri’s son (Oliver Maltman) bringing home his kind-hearted girlfriend (Karina Fernandez) which finds Mary indulging her most self destructive of impulses. And the fourth act involves the death of Ronnie's (David Bradley), Tom’s brother’s, wife and a mournfully gray, uncomfortable funeral that might seem a bit out of place at first but makes more sense when Ronnie’s son (Martin Savage) turns up and, like Mary, like Ken, is an illustration of what can happen when you don’t have a necessary person or group for support.

It would be easy to label Tom and Gerri’s marriage as being ideal but the whole time writer/director Mike Leigh seems to make you consider, without ever specifically saying so, that perhaps these two are not as in touch as they believe and, in some ways, might just be enablers of their friends’ issues. Gerri’s a therapist, isn’t she? How can she not identify Mary’s alcoholism? Her complete desperation in every aspect of life? How can Tom not recognize the slippery slope on which Ken treads? They seem to recognize it in Ronnie's son, someone they have not seen in years, but not in those people closest to them? But then that, too, might paint Mary more as being a victim which is not accurate either. All these characters have dimension and for some it is clear at first glance and for others it reveals itself the more you ponder.

The film closes with a shot that circles the dining table of Tom and Gerri where so much time in the movie has been spent and it closes with a shot that pairs gorgeously - well, make that, frighteningly - with the first shot of Imelda Staunton and suggests a horrifically bleak circle of life.

3 comments:

MrJeffery said...

it's been a month or so and i'm still haunted by that final shot of manville.

Nicholas Prigge said...

I hear you. When I realized that was going to be the last shot I just wanted to run screaming out of the theater.

Danny King said...

I loved this movie. There's too many films that begin with a similar premise and conclude with a happier ending. Leigh's decision to create that bleak ending is one of the main things that sets is apart. And, as usual, the performances he gets are absolutely phenomenal.