Another Year - DVD Review

'in Leigh's quest to replicate 'real' conversations and 'real' life he occasionally tries too hard, creating artifice not through intent but through over-reaching realism'

Like the first fifteen minutes of The Social Network, the first fifteen minutes of Another Year are spent tuning your ears in to the very unique dialogue. Where other films would have conversations written (designed, even) to lead somewhere specific, Mike Leigh's creation process is much more fluid than that, with actors and crew having direct input on the script and where they see it leading. Overtly concerned with 'realism', the results are conversations which meander to nowhere in particular, skirting around specific points. A number of lines in to an early conversation with the enigmatic Mary (Lesley Manville), for example, Tom (Jim Broadbent) breaks off to mention that 'you're looking well'. It's the kind of throwaway, small talk which often crops up in every day parlance when a period of silence needs to be filled but, crucially, it's not the sort of line which normally makes it into a film's script.

The constant effect of this sort of dialogue thrown in at random moments can be jarring. In Leigh's quest to replicate 'real' conversations and 'real' life he occasionally tries too hard, creating artifice not through intent but through over-reaching realism. Names are used near constantly, as opposed to substituted personal pronouns, much commoner in the average conversation. Think how many times a day you actually call your mate John by his full name.

If you can get over the dialogue though, there's a warm and funny drama to explore here. Leigh talks extensively in the interview extras about being both a tragedian and a comedian because 'life is full of both'. He's entirely right and in Mary, Leigh finds a character that can represent both sides. Inherently entertaining, Mary is also a dim-witted, occasionally insensitive, drunk. Hopelessly flirting with Tom and Gerri's (Ruth Sheen) son Joe (Oliver Maltman), she provides entertainment and cringe-worthy annoyance in equal measure, darting into darker and more insensitive territory later on.

The problem with Mary is that Leigh falls in love with her. At the expense of every other character (including the incredibly interesting Ken (Peter Wight) and near-silent Ronnie (David Bradley)), Mary becomes the focus of Another Year. Although everything revolves around Tom and Gerri, Leigh has found his point of focus; his personification of the tragi-comedic.

Like the dialogue though, if you can accept that we're going to follow Mary, Another Year is a lovely success. Each character is deliberately and effectively developed, with a substantial imagined back story which seeps subtly on to the screen. Leigh's direction is fluid but focused and the seasonal progression, although not visually distinct, provides a pleasantly regular structure to a beautiful drama.

Look further...

'It’s magnificent, brilliant in the final fade out to silence and black, yet at times enough to make you scream' - Wonders In The Dark

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