Two films by celebrated directors raise a glass to gloom
Published: January 27, 2011
Mary’s the opposite. She’s been married before, and she’s merry no longer. Although Tom and Gerri gently snipe about it, she remains oblivious to just how much she takes advantage of their hospitality. They have another friend, Ken (Peter Wight), every bit as prone to drink and general longing as Mary is, but she can’t bear to settle for that. She’d rather have Joe and winds up disappointed when he decides that he would rather date someone his own age.
Compared to Biutiful, Mike Leigh’s Another Year is more of a character study and less of an endurance test, as melancholy as that film is miserable. Leigh, known for his improvised approach, uses that natural sensibility to build up the quiet tragedy of life passing by certain individuals, epitomized by Manville’s wine-chugging wreck. It’s little wonder that she drinks, given that she can hardly keep anything bottled up, and her every scene is a losing battle against the delusion that she’s getting any younger. To see Mary’s interactions with Joe play out across her skittish face evokes a marvelously delicate kind of heartache.
No one in Another Year is strictly a sad sack, however, and after spending enough time with them, it’s clear that Tom and Gerri aren’t saints either. These two welcome friends into their home, yet quietly proceed to judge them. While their frustration is at times palpable, it isn’t without a layer of sanctimony. The characterizations and performances are well nuanced across the board, and Leigh’s gradual escalation of emotions is a finely honed counterpoint to the wheelbarrow-and-sledgehammer tack taken by Iñárritu.
As the title suggests, Another Year unfolds across four seasons as birth and death, love and lament govern the lives of family and friends alike; it’s telling that Leigh opts to end in winter rather than the ever-hopeful spring. There’s an appearance early on by Imelda Staunton (the lead in Leigh’s Vera Drake) that serves as a fitting bookend, a brief but potent introduction to a housewife suffering from depression, a woman who seems content with being miserable.
Then again, things could be worse. She could live in Barcelona.
> Email William Goss