In a career marked by extraordinary filmmaking, writer-director Mike Leigh has crafted what is arguably his best film yet, “Another Year,” a deceptively simple and small film that drills deep into the human condition.
"Another Year" is presented in four parts, appropriately enough, each relating to both a stage of life and the seasons, as we watch Tom & Gerri play host to a number of friends. Nothing much happens, except for the sharing of food and drink, and yet Leigh and his cast somehow examine all manner of human frailty.
Like Leigh, the central characters specialize in going below the surface. Tom (Jim Broadbent) is a geologist who works on engineering projects. His days involve taking core samples from deep within the Earth to ensure the structural integrity of locations. His wife, Gerri (Ruth Sheen), is a psychiatrist at a hospital. Together, they tend to a small vegetable garden.
No one in cinema is doing more with less these days than Leigh. There are no histrionics or melodrama or shenanigans. The film is populated by totally real people engaged in completely ordinary activities. It’s in these moments that Leigh’s eye is able to operate as a removed third party, picking up on the tragedy and beauty that often escapes us. Leigh’s camera catches the stifled frown, the downcast eye roll, and the bitten lip. It’s in those moments that Leigh and his actors manage to convey more thought and emotion than most folks can with five pages of dialog.
Lesley Manville, as Gerri’s friend Mary, has garnered the most acclaim among the film’s cast, and it’s easy to understand why. A beautiful woman by any measure, Manville, 54, sets aside whatever vanity she may possess to show every one of Mary’s wrinkles, frown lines and crow’s feet, her entire face carved by age, regret and wine. Playing scenes between the calm, contented Tom and Gerri, her anxiety crackles. The woman is a mess.
But Broadbent and Sheen are not to be overlooked as the couple at the axis of their friends and family, keeping the home where everyone pops in for tea or a meal. They are effortlessly kind, gentle and thoughtful.
Another Year opens Dec. 29