It was about halfway through ANOTHER YEAR that I had one of those rare, sublime cinematic moments, where you feel you’re entirely part of the work on screen, somehow a participant (if passive) of the events transpiring. Quite honestly, I felt almost a voyeur, uncomfortable about what was transpiring, but desperate to somehow make things right.

Mike Leigh is of course known for his rich ensemble works, often delving into complexity of emotions felt by supposedly ordinary people. In this film, he traces big emotions (love, memory, happiness) using the most casual, effortless discussion. Like many of his films, it’s easy to forget the central irony, namely, just how difficult the sense of effortlessness is to pull off on screen. Even the most talented improvisational actors leave many traces of their craft, letting you know in subtle ways that what you are watching is a performance. I’m not even sure how best to describe it, but there’s this astonishing truth to the proceedings of this film, just a range of emotion acted with such delicacy, that throughout the film I was literally left breathless.

I’ve not seen a better film from Leigh, this may very well be his masterwork among a slew of extremely powerful previous movies. The cast is uniformly fantastic, the story both contained and specific while addressing universal themes, and the direction and camera neither showy nor passive or disinterested.

Emotionally, this film can rip you apart, because it exposes raw emotions in such a stark, believable way. Yet there is much joy, small moments of shared smiles and eyes twinkling that from moment to moment you share what comes across as an abundance of love between some of the characters. This emotional pull, creating great dramatic tension without being overtly manipulative (just, again, real) demonstrates the sheer magnitude of skill required to pull this off. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds of films that try this very same balancing act, and either come close or, more often than not, fail miserably. Leigh’s practiced nonchalance of both the narrative and the dialogue betrays in fact a supreme ability to finely hone such a easily misguided melodrama into a warm, touching tale.

ANOTHER YEAR is one of the best films of this or any year, a triumph of independent filmmaking, one that left me emotionally exhausted and in awe of those able to craft such a beautiful, delicate work.

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