Friday, March 18, 2011

Another Year

Ben- I re-watched A Single Man the other night. It definitely deserves to be seen again. I hope we can get a discussion going on it, because I really love it and will defend it with my life.

Also, I appreciate your thoughts on Catfish. I love that we all can have completely different reactions to films. It’s what makes a dialogue, such as ours, interesting. I feel similarly to you on Catfish though. I didn’t love it, but I found it interesting (perhaps it's my documentary naivety). I agree that the guys aren’t particularly likable, but then again lot of people are not likable in real life. I think you’re right that the really interesting focus of the film is not in the guys but in Angela. Angela is a great representation of loneliness, disconnection, and desire in our digital age. I also agree that the film holds up a mirror to our digital world, and that it asks a lot of questions of social networking and Facebook in particular.

Speaking of Facebook, I am a fan of The Social Network. I’m assuming I’m the only one among us who likes it (Brandon, you liked it though, right?). It will be in my top films of 2010, so I’ll post some thoughts on it then.

For now though, on to a really great film that will also be in my top 10 of 2010...

Another Year (Mike Leigh)

I watched this the other day and really liked it. It’s worth seeing. I watched it online through a movie hosting website. It was really good quality. I don’t know when it’s coming out on dvd though...

First, I must admit that I’m not overly familiar with Mike Leigh’s work. I have only seen his last two films (Happy-Go-Lucky and Vera Drake) and would really like to see his Palm d’or-winning Secrets and Lies, but it is currently not on dvd. I probably won’t be a great judge of assessing how Another Year fits in with his other work, so I’ll just judge it on its own (probably as it should be judged).

Flat-out, this movie is really wondeful. It’s well-written, well-acted, and enjoyable to watch. It can be quite sad at times, but it really is a pleasure to watch. It’s just so filled with life.

Leigh gets ample praise for his well-drawn, rounded characters, and this film is no exception. This film is made on wonderful character work. It’s how the story moves along and how we become attached to it. The characters are never flat in this; they are always interesting, subtle, and alert. There is always so much going on in their vocal tones and facial reactions. It’s a real pleasure to be able to read each character and try to decifer what their expressions are really conveying or what they are really trying to say or are not saying when they speak. Indeed, so much of this film is about reading what is never said. The characters speak a lot (with great naturalistic dialogue), but they leave so much uncommunicated. It’s like it is in real life. Rarely do we express ourselves fully. Oftentimes we lie or exaggerate or obviate in order to protect our true feelings.

The best example of this lack of true expression comes from Mary (played by Lesley Manville, who is just incredible in the role; simultaneously amusing and devastating). Mary obviously never gets the chance to truly express herself, but she is crying out with the desire to do so. It’s written all over her face. She is a disaster, and as much as she tries to hide it, she cannot. The other characters (Tom and Gerri) are seemingly aware of her problems, but they never really do anything about it. They try to give her some attention by inviting her over every few months, but they mostly leave her to slowly implode. I’ve met people like Mary, and maybe you guys have too. At times, it is not a pretty sight.

I’ve read some debate online over Tom and Gerri’s role with Mary. Some find them to be happy, good-natured people who are trying to be as nice as possible to Mary without getting too involved. Others found them to be smug, self-satisfied people who use Mary to amplify their own sense of happiness while completely ignoring her copiuous problems. I don’t know exactly where I come down on that spectrum, but I suspect that the truth about Tom and Gerri is that they are a little bit of both. I like Tom and Gerri though. I found them to be mostly warm people. Watching the film, I wanted to visit their house too. I felt like I knew them. I don’t know how much of a responsibility they have to Mary. We usually only ever see Tom and Gerri when Mary is involved. For all we know, they could have their own problems and struggles that we don’t know about. They could only seem truly happy when Mary’s around because Mary is so truly unhappy. I don’t think we can judge Tom and Gerri too harshly because we only see them in the context of unhappy people. Perhaps we are only signifying their happiness from the unhappiness around them. They could just be really great actors who are trying to seem happy and strong for everyone else around them. Who knows?

That’s what I love about this film though. It presents such a realistic and interesting look at life that allows you to interpret it in numerous ways. Leigh doesn’t seem to settle on one interpretation. He presents things as realistic as possible and leaves them ambiguous the way life truly can be at times.

Another great thing about Leigh with this film is that he is incredibly patient. He lets his scenes unfold with tremendous care. Nothing is rushed. The characters are given ample room and time to expess themselves, and we are given ample to spend with them and get to know them.

One of my favorite sequences is at the end of the film when Mary comes to Tom and Gerri’s and meets Ronnie. They have a long, awkward exhange that is truly great to watch. It’s wondeful how patient Leigh is with this sequence.

Ultimately, no matter what interpretation one takes of the relationships between the characters, one would have to admit that this is a very tender film. It can be sweet, charming, and very sad, but it is always compassionate. One of the best of last year.

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