Mike Leigh is truly an interesting writer and director. In "Another Year", he starts with a depressed character that is having trouble sleeping. All she wants from her MD is sleeping pills, but the MD insists that pills will only alleviate the symptoms, not address their cause. So the woman reluctantly decides to see a psychologist. Ok - no big deal, right? But it is, because the woman is only a vehicle - setting a mood and introducing the audience to Geri, the psychologist. After her painful scene with Geri, the woman is never seen on film again. Wow! What a way to begin a film.
So - we are introduced to Geri, and an office co-worker Mary, a middle aged divorcee who is having problems dealing with the single life. She tries way too hard at everything, drinks too much, and frankly, is quite a mess. Mary (in a truly marvelous performance by Leslie Manville) is truly the focus of the film, but really, Leigh has more stories to tell, some more subtle than others.
We are introduced to Geri's husband Tom (the always brilliant Jim Broadbent), and their circle of friends and relatives. Each character has a story to tell, and there is much sadness here; especially concerning ageing and the horrible thought of being alone and adrift, unable to truly connect to those around you. I couldn't help but notice during the film that it seemed that Geri (the psychologist) and Tom seemed to be the only truly stable people around, and they spend their time observing the world around them, secure in the fact that they are comfortable with each other.
So much of what is viewed here is depressing, as it should be - the topic of ageing, and the fear of being alone (after all, we're supposed to be social creatures, right?), are not subjects filled with sunshine. And yet Leigh balances this with hope, in the form of a new and seemingly happy relationship established by Tom and Geri's son (which of course is yet another source of pain for someone else... but that's something you'll have to discover for yourself).
Fine acting abounds here, from Ruth Sheen as Geri, to some of the minor characters, especially that of Tom's friend Ken. Peter Wright is amazing in his drunken, wounded soul - tormented by the fact that life has seemingly passed him by. He seems hell bent on self destruction - perhaps seeing it as the only way out of his misery. Truly epic in his sadness.
The film moves slowly at times, allowing you to really feel the discomfort and distance that surrounds Tom and Geri's circle, but its not until the "winter" segment (yes, there are four segments - hence the title) - that the film begins to lose its way. After wallowing in enough pathos, the film heaps on a meal full (well, it is "winter" which is supposed to be a depressing time of year) - moving at a glacial pace until the final act, which isn't a resolution in any way shape or form - how could it be - this is a story about life... a messy thing that has no easy cures. It leaves you thinking, which I'm sure is what Leigh desired.