class=”size-thumbnail wp-image-42526 alignleft” title=”Another Year” src=”×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />Mike Leigh returns to the London Film Festival on a wave of positive reviews for Another Year, his latest film which played so well at Cannes and Toronto and it’s not surprising that his films, with their unique English flavour, travel so well. Simon saw the film when it premiered in Cannes earlier this year, his write up is pretty fantastic so head on over here to read it and I’ll give my thoughts on the film below.

I’m a big fan of Leigh’s films and Another Year promised big, understated performances from the actors playing the central characters as they sift through the minutiae of suburban domestic life, without huge incident, but slowing revealing turbulent emotional states behind carefully constructed relationships.

Central to the film are Gerri and Tom, middle aged and settled in their home which acts as a welcoming embrace to the old friends, family and scatterbrained workmates who call on them.  Leigh’s extensive rehearsal and improvisation pays off handsomely here as Ruth Sheen and Jim Broadbent are beautifully matched and provide a warm and engaging state of contentment against which the various forces crash. It is easy to be utterly convinced by them and the fervour with which people come to visit.

Not least Lesley Manville’s Mary, Gerri’s unattached workmate whose woeful tales of single life and dubious free-spirit logic hide in plain sight the desperation she contains. Primarily it is a love story between Mary and the family life of Gerri and Tom and this extends to the drunken flirtation with their adult son, Joe, more drunken flirtation with the drink-driving laws and fighting off an old, similarly unattached friend of Tom, whose own mistaken advances end in similar failure. Where Leigh and the cast succeed is in finding the initial humour in Mary’s fragile mannerisms and keeping the focus on her, unblinking, until it turns into uncomfortable pity.

Small  details hook into my memory, the identical, and slightly silly, greeting between father and son made me smile and are a perfect example of how Leigh builds his worlds, his families. There is no Beethoven accompanied  fatality, no sudden explosion of secrets and lies  but the rich undercurrent of emotional  intensity is there and enhances the fine performances and deliberate nature of the film.

So, love, life and death thrown against the backdrop of family life. We’ve seen this from Leigh before but it is a pleasure to watch again, the sense of deliberate normality can grate but it is a seductive world Leigh and his cast have built. With the focus on Mary’s ditzy desperation turning into something quite pitiable by the end of the film Leigh manages to carry the characters through their unremarkable lives allowing us to easily read between the lines and become caught up by the emotional forces at play.

Leigh allows the drama to breathe, and earns the emotional connection we have throughout. Gerri’s acquiescence to Mary’s seemingly endless, and often irritating, self deprecation stops dead when her actions threaten the family unit and Mary’s redemption is left undecided and we end much as we began but with the feeling we’ve understood far more than a surface reading gives us.

I was slightly disturbed by some of the audience howling with laughter as the moments of silence grew to unease, or when the small talk veered slightly too close to awkwardness but for me the unspoken interactions, the unhurried pace and refusal to provide catharsis gave a wonderful shine to the film.