Year Released: 2010
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Starring: Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen
(PG-13, 129 min.)
"We must cultivate our garden." Voltaire
This film is not so much a story -- in fact, it’s not a story at all. It’s a montage of the ways we create or destroy our own happiness, how we build our own cages and then blame someone else for the bars.
While Another Year does not have a traditional plot, it does have a framework, the comings and goings of a content British couple and their assortment of melancholy friends over the course of a year. Not only is each segment named for a season, each is also firmly rooted in the terra firma of Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri’s (Ruth Sheen) small community garden allotment near their London digs. They and their garden are the constants, like Monet’s famous Poplars, weathering the serial assaults of the seasons – spring’s rains to winter’s icy blasts.
Director Mike Leigh takes a risk here by focusing on a perfectly content older married couple, rejecting the mandatory call to dysfunctional and dissolving relationships that are so trendy now. Yet given the similarly happy royal pair featured in the Oscar favored The King’s Speech, maybe Leigh and his fellow Brits are on to something, after all.
Not that there is not enough dysfunction to go around in Leigh’s film, though, what with Tom’s old chum Ken (Peter Wight) popping in periodically, a testimony to dangers of crisps, ale, and fags, or as we would say States side, chips, beer, and cigarettes. And then there’s Mary (Lesley Manville), Gerry’s friend from work, a walking encyclopedia of denial and desperation. Perhaps Gerri, who works as a mental health counselor, is so used to dealing with her daily apportionment of sad sacks that she fails to see how much Mary resembles her clients.
And yes, both Tom and Gerri are too quick to refill Mary’s ubiquitous wine glass, too ready to tuck her into the empty bedroom when navigating the ride home on the tube, let alone, making it up to the second floor, seem beyond her. It’s as though Mary, divorced and middle-aged, embodies Karl Marx’s observation about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. While she is still attractive enough, the low cut cleavage, the wobbling high heels, the glitzy jewelry and gauzy gowns all underline her desperation for a man to complete her life. There’s even a touch of Tennessee Williams’ Blanche Dubois about her, as Mary somehow imagines young Joe (Oliver Maltman), Gerri and Tom’s thirtyish son, as a possible beau to go along with her newly acquired little red car.
The interplay of humor and pathos, which is, after all, comedy’s foundation, is most evident when Mary meet’s Joe’s new girl, Katie (Karina Fernandez). Her mask of effervescent happiness crashes to the ground; the incredible lightness of being evaporates in a dark cloud of surly looks as Mary barely manages to keep her cat claws from the sweet Katie’s eyes. Katie meets each thinly veiled insult with gracious equanimity, probably adding to Mary’s frustrations, as now even her rage is impotent. Somehow we know that this oasis of peace and happiness, the house of Tom and Gerri, will continue to produce heirs to occupy their kingdom.
Not so with Tom’s brother Ronnie (David Bradley), introduced to us at his wife’s funeral. Here’s where we want to throw the laws of genetics to the wayside, for Ronnie and his get are the diametrical opposites of the easy going Jim and his affable son. Ronnie, a barely functioning mute, lives in a semi squalid row house with all the warmth of a charnel house. His estranged son Carl (Marin Savage) shows up late for the funeral and somehow sees that as his family’s fault. He is an angry young man who has forgotten or never probed the source of his rancor, and neither does the film, nor the reason for Ronnie’s situation, either.
Maybe, director Leigh is telling us, unhappiness is the default position of the human race. The happy ones like Tom and Gerri, their son Joe and Katie, are the anomalies, the freak accidents in a line of creatures who wall themselves off from another, slowly self-destruct, or spread their self-inflicted misery like modern typhoid Marys.
Or maybe it’s a choice, a realistic decision, as Voltaire aptly suggested at the close of Candide, to give up our impossible quests and cultivate the here and now, our own gardens, however modest. How sad that so few seem to have the will to do so.
What is a British film without great heaping mugs of tea and of course, the obligatory teatime goodies that go along with it? Gerri has a whole garden full of veggies at her disposal, so when she invites her friend Mary over, we can expect fresh ingredients. How do these Perfect Cucumber Sandwiches sound to you? Since Gerri did not write her recipe down, I have had to content myself with this one passed on from the famous Lanesborough Hotel, voted as one of the top places to go for tea in the United Kingdom.
Here are a few other teatime treats from the past to sweeten things up:
Our recipe is for a single sandwich. Feel free to increase to accommodate a larger teatime fellowship.
- 2 slices good quality sun dried tomato bread, crusts removed
- ¼ cucumber, peeled, thinly sliced
- 2 oz.cream cheese (Philadelphia)
- 2 tbs freshly snipped chives
- Salt & pepper
Lay the cucumber slices out on a tray, season lightly with salt (this helps extract the excess water), leave for 5 minutes, then dry the slices in a clean cloth. Mix the cream cheese and chives together in a bowl. Lay out one slice of the bread, spread evenly with the cream cheese mix. Top with overlapping slices of cucumber, then close the sandwich with the second slice of bread. Cut into fingers and serve.
Recipe Source: expatriateliving.com