25 October 2010 | jamesgill-1
Mike Leigh turns the trivial into the truly tragic
Mike Leigh's latest film Another Year follows the story of a happily married couple approaching their retirement years. Their warm relationship offers them security as the the film progresses. Their friends and family, by contrast, all struggle to some extent with unhappiness, and a sense that their best years may be behind them.
The film is a story of ageing; the small events that can make life either comforting or unbearable; and the refuge that companionship can offer.
Rut Sheen's role as Gerri is superb. Her open, welcoming face invites her friend and colleague Mary (played by Lesley Manville) to open up to her about her drunken fears of where her life is leading. Jim Broadbent's Tom is charming and self-effacing, confident in his own happiness yet nonplussed at the failure of his friend Ken – Peter Wight – to come to terms with growing old.
The film dwells on the small, predominantly non-verbal signals that reveal emotional and social insecurity. Leigh's direction reminds us that the sharpest insights into character lie in moments where we think we at our most concealed. Faces betray what we wish were kept private – at moments where verbal communication fails, physical expression lights up hidden fears, passions, failings and desires.
Leigh treats all his characters with a certain dignity – whilst there are moments where we are encouraged to laugh at their social inadequacies, for the most part we suffer along with them, knowing that their experiences are all too near reality to take lightly. We encourage Tom and Gerri to keep supporting their despairing friends, yet knowing at the same time that their married happiness can only serve to mock their friends' lonely lives further. The four strictly partitioned seasons of the film point towards a growing anxiety that it may in fact be too late for these lost characters. The cyclical nature of the structure suggests that there is no real remedy for those left unloved and lonely at the film's conclusion.
From the opening scene, where a woman silently struggles to recollect the happiest moment in her life, to the point when the dialogue slowly fades away to leave Mary isolated and forlorn, we cannot help but be both enchanted and dismayed by the emotional honesty of Mike Leigh's characters. This is what sets out the director as a truly gifted artist – his ability to heighten the routine into the dramatic; and to make the trivial, truly tragic.