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Another Year (2010)
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, Oliver Maltman, David Bradley, Karina Fernandez, Martin Savage, Michele Austin, Philip Davis, Stuart McQuarrie, Imelda Staunton
The story focuses on a happily married couple, some troubled friends and the nuanced emotions of aging.
Another Year (2010) | Review
Tom and Gerri, the central characters in Mike Leigh's Another Year may be the embodiment of these virtues. They have found a certain level of comfort in life—not just the comfort of material things, but being comfortable with who they are and how they will live their lives. They enjoy one another's company and are willing to share their lives with others.
The film plays out in four sections, each representing a season, beginning with spring and moving to winter. Each section is a separate vignette, but they are all connected, mostly through the trials of one of their friends, Mary. While Tom and Gerri are the central characters, this is in many ways Mary's film. Mary is loquacious—overly so. You sense very clearly that she is trying a bit too hard to be liked. She drinks too much. She is aging, but tries to maintain the illusion of youth. It is a sign of Gerri's kindness that Gerri and Tom have put up with her for all these years. Her growing desperation inserts itself into each of the vignettes.
Leigh collaborates with his actors to develop the characters, and in so doing creates an organic process of making a film that comes across with an amazing sense of reality. We know these people. The ensemble cast is right on target from Tom, Gerri, and Mary to those who get little screen time like Katie, Tom, and Gerri's son's new girl friend, or Janet, a client that Gerri counsels in the opening scene.
Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play Tom and Gerri with a amazing subtlety. We gather a great deal from a look or the intonation of a line. And Lesley Manville's Mary has a definite rawness. She is trying to hide her pain, but it cannot be contained. That pain is in her eyes, even when she is putting on a very happy face—especially when she is putting on a happy face.
A key metaphor in the film is gardening. In each season we see Tom and Gerri doing their chores in their little plot in a community garden. They plant, fertilize, weed, harvest, clean up. When you combine that with Tom's job of geologist, where he sniffs and studies core samples and Gerri's job as a counselor, we see that much of their life is spent in digging in the muck. That may also be a way to see their life with friends and family. Perhaps they see their efforts with Mary or Tom's old friend Ken as a way of caring for people just as they care for their garden. They tend to them with gentleness and hope that something good will grow.
But people do not respond as well as plants do. Even as patient and kind as Tom and Gerri are, we sense that by autumn, there is a coolness in the air and in the relationship with Mary. One wonders, after seeing them cleaning up the accumulated detritus in their garden, if perhaps they will be cleaning up some things in their relationships as well.
The virtues that define Tom and Gerri can be strained at times. Yet they maintain those qualities even in the face of some people who are really very hard to love or respect. We know that is not always easy for them, but they do try to live out those virtues—that "fruit of the Spirit" that they always seem to be cultivating.
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