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Another Year: movie review

Mike Leigh’s film ‘Another Year’ offers an intimate portrait of the sadness of the middle class.

By Peter RainerFilm critic / December 29, 2010

Lesley Manville and Jim Broadbent in a scene from "Another Year."

Sony Pictures Classics

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On the surface, Mike Leigh makes movies about the humdrum lives of ordinary people, but there’s nothing humdrum about the psychological revelations he brings forth, and his people are far too acutely observed to seem ordinary.

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His latest movie, “Another Year,” is a quintessential Mike Leigh performance. It deepens as it goes along until, in the end, in its final close-up, it overwhelms. Leigh’s movies have a way of sneaking up on you. The mundane morphs into moments of shattering emotional power. This is why Leigh is often described in Chekhovian terms. Like Chekhov, Leigh at his best has a resounding feeling for the sorrows and delusions of people who are trying to make it through life without being swallowed up by fate.

In its focus on the sadness of the middle class, “Another Year” may seem like generic Leigh, but there’s a twist here. At its center is, for a change, a happy couple: Tom (Jim Broadbent), a geological engineer nearing retirement – “I dig holes!” he explains – and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a psychological counselor in a medical clinic. These two, with their frayed bohemianism, are entirely comfortable with themselves.

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They spend quality time year-round puttering in their garden, and the film itself takes place over the course of a year, with sections keyed to the four seasons, beginning with spring. Throughout the cycle Tom and Gerri host a succession of friends and family in their comfortably ramshackle North London home. The human interactions require as much weeding and pruning and cultivating as the garden.

Tom and Gerri’s contentment is presented as a given. It is also what attracts the friends and malcontents who enjoy their hospitality. They want to be happy and, without quite realizing it, they look to Tom and Gerri for a key to unlock the dungeon door. (If Leigh had provided Tom and Gerri with a few deep rifts of their own, kept out of sight of their friends, the film would have been even more darkly comic than it is.)

The central guest, who appears in all four sections, is Mary (Lesley Manville), a longstanding friend of Gerri’s who works as a receptionist at the clinic. An attractive divorced woman closing in on 50, Mary acts and dresses several decades younger than her age.

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