Judging by the response at the Q&A after the screening of Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR at the New York Film Festival (at Lincoln Center), I was the only person in the audience who was not aware that the performances in the film are largely improvised…or at the very least, the script is written around improvisations done by the actors. Such is Leigh’s “schtick” — but it works.
Predictably, “Another Year” is not plot heavy. Jim Broadbent (as Tom) and Ruth Sheen (as Gerri) give off great, natural performances as a content couple in their autumn years. They are a perfectly ordinary couple. Trivial, even. Mike Leigh likes to capture so-called ‘real people’ and that’s just what they are. And while this couple may appear to be at peace, the family and friends around them are anything but. We get to know them over the changing seasons and dinner parties.
The saddest of them all is Mary (Lesley Manville). Lonely and wanting desperately to connect and find someone to be her companion, she is also not happy with the choices being offered to her by life. Meanwhile, time is passing her by. And she is all alone.
On the surface, Tom and Gerri are warm friends, but subtle moments can reveal a certain cruelty. Certain glances of judgement between the seemingly perfect couple, meek words, facial expressions… To them, she is a child, a grown woman who doesn’t act her age, a ball of anxiety who talks too many miles a minute — someone they tolerate out of kindness. This makes Mary’s plight even more painful.
Lesley Manville really captures Mary’s unstableness, her extraordinary unhappiness and heartbreakingly lonely existence. She is so real; We’ve all known people like Mary. Much like a train-wreck, we cannot help but watch her as her life unfolds into…nothing. The most throbbing moment comes when she fully realizes that too — and she realizes that’s how others see her too. She cannot pretend any longer.
It is another year that’s passing them all by.
Have you seen ANOTHER YEAR? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment…