Saturday, 8 January 2011

Another Year, another film

We have a local film group; we watch films and talk about them afterwards. The one thing this achieves is that I always watch to the end, but 'Another Year' almost broke the mould. One might think it was the right film to be seeing at this time of year, the right title at least.
It got off to a bad start with a scene showing a GP examining a woman’s chest with the stethoscope applied on top of her blouse. That is such a joke. Breath sounds are quiet and subtle, like a breeze on autumn leaves, the last thing you need is the added sound of cloth rustling as the chest moves. Then she takes the blood pressure, and pumps the Mercury up to 140 and tells the woman that she has high blood pressure. At that value, she does not. Why make such basic mistakes? I should have guessed right then that it was going to be a disaster.
It is difficult to know where to begin or end, because the film has no story. It is just another year in the lives of a few people, who quite honestly have a more boring life than me. It makes ‘Waiting for Godot’ feel like a tense plot driven thriller.
All the acting is good and Lesley Manville is brilliant. Like much good acting it makes you feel as though you were watching real people, the trouble is that they are real people I would not want to watch. In fact peering in at their sad and needy lives feels like an intrusion.
The camera work and cinematography is excellent too, which somehow makes the complete absence of plot or narrative structure even more obvious. Maybe I am missing something; perhaps this is a new art form, reminiscent of those 60's hippie happenings, where only the people doing it knew what was going on, though in the sixties I'm not sure the hippies knew either.
Without a narrative structure, the audience is given no reason to attach any emotional currency to the characters. There are no heroes or villains. At no point in the film did I find myself caring a damn about anyone. I won’t deny there are some amusing scenes; the audience laughed a number of times. Seeing people fall over in the street can make you laugh too, but it’s not comedy, nor is it tragedy, or art. 
There is one merit, though I may be in a minority in thinking this. The characters that smoke and drink too much, come off worst.  Throughout, they look like the failures. Their eating, drinking and smoking habits are used as a means to signal their lack of control over their own lives. This is unusual in films, where smokers are very often shown as cool role models; drinking is often shown as a means to cope with stress, rather than as something that makes it worse; and over eating is often associated with taste and gourmet sensibilities, not obesity and shortness of breath. 
Not so in this film, and as a public health professional I should be grateful for that. Unfortunately, again I think because there is no story, these home truths are not connected in a way that would make those lessons clear. I haven’t found any other reviews that noticed.
I presume that the film did not get any covert subsidies from the drink and tobacco industries. It does acknowledge, in the opening credits, some support from the UK Film Council. Personally I think the Film Council is a good thing, or should I say, was a good thing, but I did keep wondering whether this film was the reason why the government decided to get rid of it. To paraphrase the last line of one of Seigfrieg Sassoon's poems, 'I wish they could have killed you for a decent show.' *
 *(From - To any dead officer, Seigfried Sassoon).

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