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Cannes Review: “Another Year.”

Cannes Review: “Another Year.” (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy are you?” asks a counselor, Gerri (Ruth Sheen), to an older woman who has been having trouble sleeping. “One,” the aggrieved woman (Imelda Staunton) answers with muted fury.

The scene works as a prologue of sorts to British director Mike Leigh’s latest intimate, funny and finely crafted multi-character portrait “Another Year.” While Staunton’s memorably irritable and intensely troubled woman is not part of the central story, Leigh foretells the terrain he wants to tackle in this opening scene: about those who are fulfilled, and those who are not, and the fickle ways of life that keep some people from happiness.

Gerri and Tom (Jim Broadbent), a geological engineer, live together in aged domestic bliss, tending to their parcel of a public garden over the course of the year. The story is told in seasonal sections, moving from spring to summer, autumn to winter. Gerri, sweetly good-natured (friends call her “Saint Gerri”) and Tom, always affable, offer moral support to co-worker Mary (Lesley Manville), a jittery rabbit of a lonely, single woman, who hides behind her life’s disappointments with a perky attitude and lots of wine.

The film is deliberately and distinctively low-key. Nothing really happens over the course of the year, but with Mary’s repeated visits to Gerri and Tom’s house, along with another visitor, Tom’s old friend, the slovenly and rotund Ken (Peter Wight), a quasi-conflict emerges, contrasting the emotionally-satisfied haves with the have-nots.

05142010_LeighAnotherYear2.jpgAt an outdoor lunch at Gerri and Tom’s house, Mary stumbles in embarrassingly late and proceeds quickly to the nearest bottle of wine, and then aggressively flirts with Gerri and Tom’s single adult son Joe (Oliver Maltman). Meanwhile, Ken comes across no better, limping around with a bottle of wine and a T-shirt that reads “Less Thinking More Drinking.” But Leigh works hard to humanize Mary and Ken’s pathetic states, showing them as full-bodied, fragile human beings rather than caricatures of the unfortunate.

In a later scene, in which Mary meets Joe’s girlfriend — and is obviously jealous of her young rival for Joe’s affections — Leigh skillfully plays the moment for both laughs and discomfort. Mary’s pain is palpable, and while we might chuckle as she wrestles with envy and disappointment under clenched smiles and darting glances, it’s impossible not to feel sorry for her.

If there’s a problem with this juxtaposition of characters, it’s that each of them never diverge from how they initially appear: one might expect fractures to eventually emerge in Gerri and Tom’s liberal-minded homey harmony, or Joe’s relationship with his new girlfriend to falter, or Mary or Ken to somehow show another side than the pitiable. But they don’t, leaving one to possibly long for more complexity, or contradictions, in the characters on display.

And yet, this is probably Leigh’s point — that what we’re seeing is just “another year,” as the title suggests, and the changes that occur in that time span are rarely profound. (Though the winter sequence includes a life-changing event, it is not one experienced by the protagonists.) Rather, Leigh wants to examine the experience of lives, both full and empty. And while that may sound anticlimactic, by the film’s last simple, melancholy frame and fade out, the director suggests, perhaps, that’s all a movie really needs.

“Another Year” is currently without U.S. distribution was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics for release later this year.

[Photos: “Another Year,” Film4, 2010]

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.