Like any dependable Mike Leigh picture, "Another Year" leisurely reveals its secrets. It's a glacial feature representing the passage of time, observing a single year in the life of a dangerously functional couple and their troubled friends and family. It's not a film of direct conflict or suspense, but one that nurtures a sinking feeling of unease and sadness, watching as some of these characters fall deeper into hopelessness, almost to spite the happiness around them.
Married for ages, Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent) have formed a relationship built on mutual respect and love, sharing their spirit with their affable son, Joe (Oliver Maltman). Into their peaceful lives comes Mary (Lesley Manville), Gerri's fidgety co-worker who finds the aging process unbearable, watching as her sex appeal fades, taking comfort in copious amounts of wine. Throughout the year, Mary invades Gerri and Tom's life, desperate for attention, soon growing fixated on Joe, looking for love and a way to organically entrench herself in the family. As the seasons change and a few other personal challenges enter Gerri and Tom's household, Mary remains a constant source of difficulty, leaving the composed twosome struggling for patience.
"Another Year" doesn't bring about a great change of pace for Leigh ("Secrets and Lies," "Vera Drake"), instead locking him into a fairly linear tale of self-destruction, viewed through a series of social gatherings spread across four seasons. Following the director's routine, "Another Year" is a character piece of plentiful behavior, with Leigh stepping back to examine how these personalities survive as drama enter their lives. It's a story of jealousy and despair, but sold with an understated realism that slowly screws in the discomfort, carefully establishing a pathology that doesn't lead to climatic explosion, but a rotted sense of realization, more effective than any blustery showdown.
While the staging is impeccable and the cinematography divides the film's environmental changes splendidly, the majority of the picture is handed to the cast, who provide exemplary work here, playing a specific mood of diplomatic social pleasantries corrupted by drink and dejection. Broadbent and Sheen make for an extraordinarily comfortable couple, communicating a lifetime of kindness and security in mere looks and conversational timing. It's not a cloying depiction of twinkling domestic accord, but a natural flow of life between two people who genuinely enjoy each other's company, finding peace in gardening and the buoyant personality of their son.
As Mary, Manville has the troubling role, asked to be the story's cancer without making the character too pathetic or vicious. Manville depicts a jittery obsessive quality to the role that's hypnotic and repulsive at the same instant, finding four corners to Mary in very few moves, keeping the fearful middle-aged princess in a constant state of bang-yanking distress without pushing antics into bleeding hysterics. It's a remarkable performance in a film of uniformly splendid work, with Manville stealing the film through her interpretation of paralyzing depression, often viewed through an overflowing wine glass.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) feels a little bloodless with skintones and overall color, with a natural life restrained some, leaving overly ashen faces. Clarity is solid here, with a crisp read of environmental changes and thespian concentration, leaving the viewer with a profound impression of unease, allowed to survey reactions in full. Shadow detail is a little soft, with a slight contrast boost masking a few of the finer details. The textures of Leigh's work are retained and serviceably handled, but the image feels somewhat held back.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is a simplistic effort, concentrated on the nuances of the verbal performances, with a crisp exploration of discussions and arguments, with voices sounding full and supported. Atmospherics are healthy, keeping a sense of place in the surrounds, with more evocative touches coming when the action stays outdoors, bringing rain and garden work to the experience. Low-end is light, while scoring cues are gentle, never intrusive, nicely separated from the dialogue. It's rarely emphatic, instead holding to essential needs of performance. A French track is included.
English, English SDH, and French subtitles are offered.
The feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Mike Leigh and actress Leslie Manville (which starts after the opening titles) is essential for any fan of the filmmaker, who happily drills into the mechanics of his feature, exploring the meaning of scenes and character dynamics. Considering the dreary tone of his movies, it's a treat to hear Leigh so jovial and helpful here, permitting the viewer to enjoy the nuances of the work, while pointing out particular screen quirks. Manville arrives to provide additional insight, though Leigh is the commander here, often stepping in to translate the actress's technical speak. There's a little play-by-play, but Leigh's chat satisfies.
"Making Of" (12:29) is a standard BTS featurette, with cast and crew offering their thoughts on the filmmaking process, discussing character backstories and sense of worry. Plenty of film clips are here to pad the promotional mood, but the central conversations are intriguing, permitting the cast a chance to reflect on the work.
"The Mike Leigh Method" (11:48) boils down the creative process, with Leigh and his crew discussing how these films are assembled. There's a special challenge with "Another Year," which is intended to cover a full calendar year over the course of a three-month shoot. A nice chunk of BTS footage is supplied, offering a rare chance to see the director at work.
A Theatrical Trailer has been included.
"Another Year" touches on death and more direct family conflicts, and while it doesn't assume a great urgency (keeping to Leigh's traditional trickle of neuroses), the picture hits an eloquent note of despondency in the end. It reaches a foregone conclusion, yet finds a measured visual summation that's surprisingly potent; a testament to the power of performance and the unique sense of life Leigh brings to cinema.