Call it “Secrets And Highs.” In Mike Leigh’s latest film, the 67-year-old English writer-director takes another roll call of local eccentrics, centering, sort of, on a desperately chatty late-middle-age secretary named Mary whose friends are happy even as she takes on stunning amounts of white wine, self-rationalizing and self-pity. (She compensates by wavering from very drunk to falling down.) “Happy-Go-Lucky” was one of Leigh’s most chipper, but “Another Year” may be his most despairing since “All or Nothing” (2001). Four seasons pass, and in the life of Gerri (Ruth Sheen) and Tom (Jim Broadbent), they’re as fertile and flowering as the gardening allotment they tend when he’s not examining the soil or she’s not counseling the deeply depressed. Life is sweet. Their banter is comfy without being cozy. Gerri and Tom enjoy each other. Mary is one with the rain that spits or sluices down throughout the year, of the chill gray winter to come. Leigh shoots a London of particular exteriors and interiors. Place, space and light convey the enabling characteristics of these grownups and their bleak moments. While the garden and its seasonal affect are an armature for one theme, of perseverance, it’s not diagrammatic, but nicely worked. Leigh is a master filmmaker. As Mary, Manville captures the fidgety, flickering desperation of a lost soul, the unexamined damage of a ruined woman, with sterling yet frightening precision. The closing shot is a descent into hell; not judgment or condemnation, but hard and harsh, and the damning of a character to live, another year, another year. The sound of a chisel on stone is not far behind. It’s brilliant work. You may want to be prepared to take to bed immediately after. With Imelda Staunton as the angriest depressive of the day. 129m. Widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Another Year” opens Friday at Landmark Century.