As the plot of Mike Leigh’s latest film unfurled itself with leisured ease across the screen at Rosh Pina’s Cinematheque, I became increasingly convinced that its central vision is Jewish.
Moreover, while the Manchester-born film writer and director refuses to visit Israel for political reasons, the audience gave it the sort of mixed reception he may have enjoyed had he been there in person!
Another Year tells a story in which nothing – and – everything happens. The central middle-aged characters are the impishly named Tom and Gerri (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) who have been together since university and are the embracing focal point for extended family and friends.
Their relationship with each other and the other characters echoes Leigh’s familial, repertorial style of improvisational film-making as we see other members of the regular ensemble like Imelda Staunton in a brilliant cameo role at the beginning of the story and Lesley Manville who unsurprisingly has won prizes for her portrayal of the miserable, semi-drunk misfit, Mary.
The unfolding story takes place against the seasons of the year as Tom and Gerri tend their classic English allotment (a small piece of land rented for cultivation). Spring is illustrated by the birth of a baby by one of Gerri’s work-mates while the winter period includes a death.
I sense Leigh’s background in this, not only because I knew his parents and received hospitality from them, but because Tom and Gerri’s effortlessly comfortable, ‘middle England’ home is a refuge for their quietly desperate guests. This type of hospitality is central to Jewish thinking as is the scene where they are shown providing yet more food for the ‘funeral tea’ along with emotional succour at the home of Tom’s bereaved brother and thuggish nephew in their run-down North of England terrace.
I liked the film very much. I found it lyrical, even elegiac whereas others with me dismissed it as tedious and artificial. This is not only because it is a slow-paced, cyclical drama without a solid conclusion. It is also because Tom and Gerri are not quite real. I know of no one past a certain age who has not suffered some personal tragedy, yet they are portrayed as wholly contented and fulfilled in stark contrast to the eccentric malcontents around them. I know no one like them. Neither, I suspect, does Leigh.