Filmmaker Mike Leigh has carved himself a niche, possibly second only to Ingmar Bergman, in the study of human character. Unfortunately for us as his human study subjects, if to believe his observations, our lives consist mostly of miserable existence. That is not to say his films are anything but superb in their delivery. The months ahead of production Leigh spends with his actors, creating the characters and their world, make the resulting performances simply superb. Yet, with the exception of very few films made along his steady career, his creations contain a decent amount of melancholy; not what most filmgoers wish to see when they go out on a Saturday night (one very notable recent exception is the lovely 2007 Happy-Go-Lucky).
Back to Another Year - in this film Leigh explores relationships: marriage, friendship, family, coworkers. Leigh wisely limits the number of relationships explored and also constrains the time to one year - sufficient time for relationships to develop yet not spreading it over an exhausting lifetime. Central to the film are a couple whose solid marriage is actually the least nitpicked. Yet, around this stable column, everything else seems to be moving in a flux that mostly spirals downhill. The film is loaded with lots of tiny observations. It is constructed in a manner that does not throw these in your face but rather allow individuals to take out of the film each what suits them. Though rich in dialogue, in times, the words not being said have heavier weight than the ones that do. Despite comical moments and good flow, due to its subject matter, the film feels long and heavy. Mike Leigh's fans will delight, others may justifyingly yawn, and may even step out before the final depressing shot of this study linger just ahead of the final rolling titles.