I was surprised to receive a great deal of positive feedback with my last post about the gizzard salad. It was certainly unexpected. Thanks to those who sent me a “like” after reading it. It’s nice to know someone’s paying attention. It certainly helps with one’s motivation as well!
But first, a bit of context. My wife and I first discovered Mike Leigh when we watched the brilliantly comical film “Happy-go-Lucky“ last year. It was a great watch; heartwarming, sidesplittingly funny and tender. The characters were so richly developed. The film felt real and alive: with amusing moments and sad ones carefully weaved to produce a very enjoyable nugget of cinema. I can’t remember the details of the story very much so I won’t go into great detail about why the film was so good, but I was finished the film with deal of respect for the filmmaker and wanted to know more. The film was a poignant character piece whose plot was life, the interplay of people, their emotions and their day-to-day activities.
Following that, we rented “Naked”, whose protagonist was played by David Thewlis, an actor I very much enjoy. What a shock! It was much darker and edgier than “Happy-go-Lucky”, with none of its lighthearted whimsy. But the film was incredible! Once again, a rich canvas of characters suffering their fates in various ways, each one unique and well rounded. While the film’s cynical and bleak mood was surprising, the richness of the characters was not, and once again, Carolina and I were thoroughly impressed with the experience; even more so because the tone was so vastly different than “Happy-go-Lucky”.
Tonight we watched “Another Year”. The plot follows an older couple whose life has been stimulating and rewarding. Still in love, they garden and cook together and calmly reflect on aging and living fruitfully. Interrupting this gentle environment are coworkers, friends and family who, for the most part, haven’t really got things together: they’re drunk, bitter, depressed and alone; looking for redemption and some sympathy. The film is broken into four parts, each being a season of the year, hence the title… To a certain extent there is no plot. The film weaves the relationships in such a way to bring about reflection about life, death, happiness and love. The film is essentially about living. Now this may seem broad, but Mike Leigh’s powers reside in developing engagingly fully developed personalities that deal with their own demons and circumstances.
The film asks the question of how to live a good life. Part of the answer it gives is taking responsibility for one’s actions. However, the film isn’t so didactic or obvious. All in all, it’s a series of conversations, and within them, by getting to know the characters, the viewer comes to value certain things over others. The healthier characters are more aware of their failings, of their own selves, while the rest fear to face the personal issues that cause them to hurt themselves. Perhaps slightly conservative in outlook, the film’s symbolic center is the happy older couple’s garden, where they work the earth in return for life’s wonderful bounty. The couple’s been in love for ever and the whole thing is perhaps a little too perfect. In my mind, Leigh also puts too much responsibility on the backs of the sufferers and says very little about the society itself, which seems to me an important influence on the health of our emotional and psychological states. Despite these criticisms, the film remains wonderfully directed and produces vivid portraits of distinct characters. The actors are brilliant and the simplicity of it all is divine. The film doesn’t finish with any overt or obvious answers for the poor characters who suffer so, but that’s part of its success: the ability to paint a detailed picture of life, contrasting some of the paths and decisions we make and letting the viewer come to his own conclusions.