Following 2008's somewhat broad and farcical "Happy-Go-Lucky," director Mike Leigh returns to his strong suit, with a gentle snapshot of the tides that rock the lives of an ensemble of ordinary folk from spring through winter.
"Another Year" orbits around Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), a happy couple in their later years who enjoy gardening, cooking and most importantly, each other. Unfortunately, their friends and family aren't quite as settled or satisfied. Gerri's friend Mary (Lesley Manville) hides deep disappointment and festering hurt beneath a bundle of unbridled, scattershot energy. In her desperation to assure others that everything is fine, her pain is apparent. There's Ken (Peter Wight), overweight, divorced and alcoholic who is struggling to find something worth living for. And there's Joe (Oliver Maltman), Tom and Gerri's 30-year-old son who keeps the details and the status of his bachelorhood to himself.
The film is divided into two parts, Spring and Autumn, but really, these are just placemarkers. While some characters do experience considerable shifts on between each half of the film, "Another Year" is less about what happens to these characters and more about how they they handle the changes in their lives. Leigh's film softly asserts that the people we are, and can become, are marked by how we ride the bumps in our lives, adapt to the changes and support our family and friends. Yes, it's a simple message, not a philosophical mind bender, but a tender one that is undeniably real.
Much has been made of Manville's performance and yes, it is easily the highlight of the film (though the rest of cast is absolutely solid) and a strong awards contender. Containing more notes and texture than Sally Hawkins' similarly peppy Poppy, Manville's transformation from beginning to end is affecting. But if there is a nitpick with Leigh's film, it's that at over two hours, it's a touch on a long side. An opening sequence with Imelda Staunton feels superfluous and one could argue that the film could use a tighter edit. But "Another Year" is a film you don't mind meandering or spending some time in. Warmhearted and insightful, Leigh's film argues every year is the most important one in your life. [B+]
So how desperate is Thomas Vinterberg to communicate to audiences that "Submarino" is indeed A Very Serious Drama? With the first 20 minutes of the film we get a dead baby, two kids getting drunk and trashing an apartment after electrocuting their mother with a griddle while she is passed out in a pool of her own urine, a gratuitous, ugly blowjob scene, and a man punching a phone so hard that well, we won't tell you what happens to his hand but you can probably guess. Yes, if the characters in Mike Leigh's "Another Year" were quietly facing the changes in their lives, in "Submarino," they rage against them in them utter futility.
Based on the novel by Jonas T. Bengtsson, we can only imagine that something was deeply lost in the translation to the big screen by writers Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg. The film follows two brothers during a season of their lives, and how the wounds from their deeply troubled past have found them in midlife struggling to stay afloat. The first half focuses on the older brother, Nick (Jakob Cedergren, who looks like a Swedish Ben Affleck). Recently released from jail and living in a shelter, his days are filled with little more than weightlifting, drinking and casual sex with Sofie (Patricia Schumann) who lives across the hall. He also spends time hanging out with his friend Ivan (Morten Rose), who is the brother of his ex-girlfriend Ana (Kate Kjolbye). He also makes a few mysterious phone calls, which go unanswered, leading to the punching of the phone.
All of this gets explained in the second half of the film when we focus on Nick's unnamed brother (Peter Plaugborg). It turns out Sofie is his ex-wife and like him, an addict. Together they had a son Martin (Gustav Fischer Kjaerulff), and the single father, struggling with a spiraling addiction, unemployment and increasing pressure from social services, is desperate to do whatever it takes to provide for his son (other than get clean it seems). So he decides to start dealing drugs, of course.
The timelines of both narratives overlap in a pseudo-Alejandro González Iñárritu sort of way, but to no discernible impact. The film is a resolutely dour affair, which wouldn't be a problem if it actually had anything worthwhile to say. Instead, Vinterburg seems intent on turning the screws on these characters, punishing them not only for their sins, but also for the weight of the past they try desperately to escape. Everything ends up being neatly tied up to a last minute plot contrivance that is as hokey as the rising crescendos of the organ that plays through the soundtrack. Preposterously sour and filled with an air of self-importance, "Submarino" sinks like a stone, right to the very bottom. [D]