A married couple who have managed to remain blissfully happy into their autumn years, are surrounded over the course of the four seasons of one average year by friends, colleagues, and family who all seem to suffer some degree of unhappiness.Written by
The only non-Best Picture nominee for the year to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay, it was also the only non-Best Picture film nominated in any of the screenwriting categories. See more »
One of Mary's outlays on her troublesome car was for a new carburettor, but the vehicle in the film had fuel injection. See more »
So how long's this been going on for?
I don't know.
A few weeks?
A long time.
I Suppose so.
A whole year? You've taken your time to come and see me, haven't you?
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This is a big movie tackling big themes, and may, like Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh's previous film) prove extremely Marmitish. The latter comment may prove hard to understand if you're not British, and that's just like the film (Marmite is a British spread made from yeast extract with a love-it-or-hate-it umami/savoury/salty flavour). Another Year deals with a particularly British form of social breakdown and emotional constipation.
In Britain, from the 40s to the 70s there was widespread use of an exam system called the 11+. Up until the age of 11-12 students were schooled together, after that point, students considered to have more potential by the standards of the 11+ examinations were streamed separately in Grammar Schools, prepared for success, whilst those below the boundary line were sent to Secondary Modern Schools where the focus was much more on practical education (bricklaying, "home economics", woodwork, etc). The legacy of this system has been huge social resentment. There is a feeling in Another Year that the system is back, in the form of university education. With the UK attempting to educate 50% of the secondary school student population to university level, a socially engineered bifurcation to haves and have-nots is being created once again.
All of the characters in the film are from working class backgrounds and yet the fortunes that life has graced them with are distinctly uneven, they have gone in different directions, absent any idea of a shared experience that may have been the rock of previous generations of Britons. Graduates Tom and Gerri (pun intended) have fulfilling careers, heartfelt love for one another, high incomes, and have had the opportunity to travel widely. Tom's brother and Gerri's friend Mary are aging and alone, undereducated, lacking in the kind of accomplishments that are social currency, living with hurt, and in Mary's case, desperation. The message is not all one way, old friend of the family Ken is also a graduate and yet has not managed to find a place in life either.
Scenes in the movie almost exclusively concern Tom and Gerri's catering to this group of friends and family. They deal with the misfortunes of this circle with a mixture of humour, irony, good cooking and alcohol, but mostly conceal their compassion and are helpless onlookers.
The mating game is key here, the unwedded 40+s exist in a state of unsalved distress, futureless, scrapped. Even 30-year-old Joe, functional, graduate, well-employed and witty has struggled to find someone to be with. A notable absence in the movie is a sense of solidarity, community, public events, shared lives and shared values. There's an illiquidity in the relationships marketplace, a lack of feeling and connection, all leading to a general anomie and social constipation.
However painful the lives of Ken and Mary are, the film gives occasional glimpses of far more infernal lives, lower circles of hell where dissatisfaction has paralysed characters with rage or utter resignation. Anything more than a glimpse would have made the film unwatchable.
Gone are the days when WWII veterans would whimper their way through night-times of post-traumatic hallucination for forty years without mentioning it to a soul, however the British "stiff upper lip" still remains as a guiding principle in this movie. There is still very much the assumption that one should keep one's private hell to oneself, or else outsource emotion to a therapist.
What may be controversial in the film is the way you look at how Tom and Gerri treat Mary. A German lady in the audience voiced her opinion to Mike Leigh that the way they treated her was to look down on her, and that she felt this was inappropriate. Mike Leigh responded that the lady felt like this because she was a German and Germans did not understand irony. Maybe I suffer from the same problem because I for one felt that Mary was treated as little more than a baby, and with a certain hauteur, arms-length love. I think people who are lonely need to feel useful. Mary for example was never allowed to help with anything, though this does not excuse her, at times, appalling behaviour (depression makes people selfish, however I feel it necessary to point out as well that someone who is drowning in a river and calling for a life ring, is also being "selfish" in the same way, and I think metaphorically the position is very similar).
Dour joyless watching, maybe one for the Cabinet to watch, after the example of the film La Haine, which concentrated on French malaise and was screened in front of the French cabinet at the instigation of Prime Minister Alain Juppé.
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