Another Year, Cannes Film Festival
A superior study in self-loathing
Monday 17 May 2010
Mike Leigh's latest film is an acutely well-observed study of needy and unhappy people desperately trying to make sense of their lives.
This is not exactly uplifting viewing. Nor is the director breaking new ground. Some critics of Leigh are bound to accuse him of patronising his characters and of rehearsing themes that he has tackled in countless other films from Abigail's Party to Secrets and Lies (unhappy families, loneliness, unfulfilled desire, social embarrassment and class and regional tension.) However, he is a supreme actors' director with an uncanny ability to wring drama out of domestic details that other film-makers would treat in the most throwaway fashion. A cup of tea in a kitchen, a late arrival at a barbecue, a fraught drive to a railway station – these are the pivotal incidents that Another Year turns around.
The setting is largely the suburban London home of medical counsellor Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and her geologist husband Tom (Jim Broadbent.) They are a stable and contented couple on the cusp of old age. The struggles of the other characters are seen from their patient and kindly perspective.
The tone of the film is set right at the outset when we see a huge close-up of Imelda Staunton's face. Staunton's cameo is as a wretchedly unhappy woman who can't unravel the secret of her own misery. Leigh regular Lesley Manville plays Mary, Gerri's work colleague, in deceptive fashion. Only slowly do we begin to understand the character's misery. She is living in a poky rented flat on her own, without a boyfriend or a husband, drinking to keep her demons at bay.
Equally dysfunctional is Ken (Peter Wight), Tom's friend from Hull. He is overweight, alcoholic, consumed with self-loathing.
Leigh's skill is to portray these characters in a way that highlights their humour and humanity as well as their desperation. They are so wrapped up in their own lives that they have lost the ability to empathise with or understand others.
Another Year is split, Rohmer-style, into seasons. Not a huge amount happens. Mary buys a car that she thinks will bring her the freedom she craves. Inevitably, it keeps on breaking down, and leaves her even more sorrowful and self-pitying than before. There is a funeral – a quietly devastating scene that ranks with Leigh's most memorable set pieces.
The most upbeat strand of the film concerns Joe (Oliver Maltman), Gerri and Tom's son, who begins a relationship with the happy-go-lucky Katie (Karina Fernandez.) In a film dealing so heavily in disappointment and bereavement, they at least find love and companionship.
Suburban settings like these are often used for sitcoms. At moments, Gerri and Tom could almost be mistaken for older versions of Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal in The Good Life. Of course, such cosy comedy is anathema to Leigh, who probes far more deeply and uncomfortably into his characters' lives than a TV sitcom ever would.
Gerri and Tom can seem just a little bit too well-adjusted and even complacent. How, you wonder, have they avoided all the angst that dogs the other characters here? However, they are the fixed points in a world that otherwise seems very cruel and arbitrary indeed.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Oxygen-starved 'dead zones' with no marine life up to 100-miles long discovered in the Atlantic Ocean
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils