The year 2014 is fast approaching, which portends a myriad of things for people. For many, it is a fresh start, a chance to renew lapsed goals and resolve to become a better person. Yet for all of us, it is an inescapable marker of time slipping through our fingers. For what is a year but just two signposts of elapsed time, a set of brackets to contain our ups and downs?
Mike Leigh’s “Another Year,” my pick for the final “F.I.L.M. of the Week” in 2013, looks at this widely-recognized span of time from a refreshingly realistic angle. It’s not a tale that escalates dramatically like a conventional fictional plot. Rather, Leigh presents four chapters – one for each season – in the lives of ordinary people going about their business. There is not necessarily any grand significance to their trials and triumphs, but in simply recognizing these normally unrecognized moments, Leigh grants them a beautiful dignity.
To detail the occurrences of “Another Year” in any great detail would be to spoil the flow of the picture. Like many films by Mike Leigh, it involves a large ensemble cast who are more than just actors in the movie – they are true collaborators. Their characters drop in and out of the story with the exception of the two anchors of the film, the old married couple Tom and Gerri Hepple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, respectively). They are a solid bedrock for their many friends, steady and resolute from their many years of experience weathering whatever is thrown at them.
There’s no indication that the year chronicled in “Another Year” is one of any particular challenge for Tom and Gerri. Both continue to work their jobs, tend their house, care for their grown son, and love each other. They even manage to stay relatively unfazed by their erratic friend Mary, played by Lesley Manville in what should have been an Oscar-nominated performance. (Sadly, confusion over whether she was a leading or a supporting actress may have cost her a shot at a trophy she deserved to win.)
As she endures a particularly biting mid-life crisis with an accompanying lack of direction and self-worth, Mary provides the tension that makes “Another Year” more than just pure naturalism. Manville is nothing short of stunning in the role, providing just about every emotion one can feel over the course of a year within the film. Leigh closes with a long-held shot of her face, and it is truly devastating. Not unlike the final shot of “Zero Dark Thirty,” all the action and events of the film are ultimately reflected in the face. And in “Another Year,” the events are life itself, in all its small victories and tough disappointments.