Looking for an entertaining, light-hearted cinematic escape from the Irish weather and recession? Then do not go to Mike Leigh's Palme d'Or shortlisted 'Another Year'. If, however, you're looking for a shockingly relevant, realistic drama with outstanding characters and even better performances, then grab your coat.
Like the intense man himself, a Leigh film is never your average fare. Resisting all pigeon-holing, his six-times Oscar-nominated independent films may not be box office favourites, yet they are critically acclaimed, consistently good (great in many cases) and in the case of 'Another Year' he has made arguably one of the best of his career.
The film begins in spring and as the seasons unfold we see Broadbent and Sheen's happy couple welcoming their sad, lonely friends in out of the cold with an offer of food, warmth and a shoulder. Their middle-aged peers lack the solace and refuge that they have found in each other and the simple pleasures of family stability.
Even as I write it's hard to avoid the smugness that Sheen's character shows towards her boozy, flaky work colleague (Manville) and her hubby's boozy mate (Wright). They are both down-on-their-luck, aging beauties who, despite looking a little too hard for it, are deserving of sympathy.
As ever, humour is present in Leigh's latest, perhaps not in the same quantities as his Oscar-nominated 'Happy-Go-Lucky' but there nonetheless, adding a spoonful of sugar to the sombre themes.
Leigh's character development is once again proof that his unusual no-script film-making process works and for 'Another Year' he reunites a number of his trademark acting family; Broadbent, Manville, Sheen and Staunton. His 'Vera Drake' star makes an excellent cameo at the beginning of the film before handing over the mantle to the able leads.
His 'genre' is to focus on the simple, everyday human interactions that many other directors take for granted and skim over. He pauses for those 'cup of tea' moments and tells the story of what happens during the small-but-significant times of the day, the emotions felt and dramas faced.
'Another Year' deals with everything from despair to happiness, birth and death, love and hate and what Leigh describes as "the pain of existing". The film flies the universal warning flags of loneliness, depression and so-called sociable tools such as drink, which ends up isolating those who really rely on it.
I loved this film, despite the fact that it is as depressing as hell, because it's engaging, it's realistic and it's the truth - something we don't see enough of these days.