Winter Guide: Lesley Manville Is the Toast of Mike Leigh's Latest Film, Another Year
British actress Lesley Manville is no stranger to social-realist filmmaker Mike Leighs improvisational working methods, their five collaborations dating back to the 1980 BBC film Grown Ups. In Another YearLeighs wonderfully moving new drama about love, friendship, loneliness, and agingManville steals the show as middle-aged secretary Mary, a high-strung and perpetually single alcoholic who cant get out of her own way. Manville, on the other hand, was simply delightful to talk with.
Ive been touting your work in this film since Cannes, so I was baffled by The New York Times Manohla Dargis calling your performance a hate-it or love-it turn. Yes, I saw that. Its quite a complex character, and if you judge it on the first hour of the film, you can think, Oh, my god, is this going to be a relentless performance? This womans going to drive us mad. You have to stay with it, because you do see Marys armor disappear. Talking too much, drinking too much, and being a bit full-on is her safety net because shes so unhappy. Ive been on the road with this film for quite some time now, and most people see the pain in Mary and find it touching. I dont think its a love-it-or-hate-it situation, but everyones entitled to their opinion, and thats all right.
Have you ever known a Mary in your life? Ive known people with aspects of Mary. Thats not unique. We all know people who are lonelymale and femalewho sometimes drink too much because theyre compensating for something or wanting to bury certain parts of their life in a dark corner. Sometimes theyre slightly better if theyre muted behind a few glasses of Chardonnay. Its just that in the film, Mary is lined up alongside a very solid, happy couple. I think that contributes to seeing the starkness of her situation even more.
When a characters pathetic behavior is so externally visible, how do you avoid making her a caricatured train wreck? I dont know how much you know about the way Mike Leigh works, but we dont start with a conventional script. We have a very lengthy period of rehearsal, detailed work and history, and building up a characters past, and through that we develop the whole character. Eventually, big improvisations will happen, and out of that he will distill it down, make dialogue, tighten and dramatize it, and give it a narrative so that you then shoot. But we have 18 weeks before the cameras come, so its not a case of him saying, Oh, Ive got this great character, would you like to play it? Mary doesnt exist until he and I create her.
Another year, another winter. What are your plans for the holidays? Weve always had big at-home Christmases, very traditional. Even though my son is 21 now, he loves spending the entire day in his pajamas, opening presents, and eating lots of turkey. But I said, Maybe we should do something different this year, or be somewhere else. I think Im more of an adventurer than he is. Hes a bit of a traditionalist, and he likes the big tree all decorated. Look, its one day and Im happy to pander to him. I might be able to pry him away from England, but I bet even if I did manage that, hed end up saying, Aw, Mom, can we spend Christmas at home next year?
So what would be your perfect Christmas? I might go somewhere and not even acknowledge Christmas. Id go on a yoga retreat or walk around the Himalayas, something completely unusual.
Another Year opens December 29, (Sony Pictures Classics), sonyclassics.com
Winter Film Listings
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
You better watch out and you better start crying, for Jalmari Helanders deliciously creepy Santa Claus fantasy is coming to town. In the remote tundra of northern Finland, a reindeer hunters young son discovers that a corporate-sponsored seismic research crew is attempting to unearth the long-buried Kris Kringle, a white-bearded ogre (or is he?) who spanks children to pieces. Alongside Gremlins and The Night Before Christmas, this audacious and unashamedly silly gift is an anti-holiday cult classic in the making. Oscilloscope Laboratories, in limited release, oscilloscope.net
Spanish Cinema Now
December 10 to 23
13th-century ghost stories (Aita), bouncy animated musicals (Chico & Rita), intense hostage thrillers (Kidnapped), an avant-garde Mexican classic (1962s The Empty Balcony), and multiple commemorations of the Spanish Civil Wars 70th anniversary (dont miss the war clowns in A Sad Trumpet Ballad) highlight one of the Film Societys longest-running annual showcases. The unnerving, moody art-sploitation flicks of Agustí Villaronga (In a Glass Cage, El Mar) will also be honored in a sidebar tribute, fittingly titled The Savage Eye. The Film Society of Lincoln Center, West 65th Street and Broadways, filmlinc.com
Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer-winning play, the story of a suburban couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) unable to cope with the death of their four-year-old son might sound like manipulative Oscar bait, but the inevitable accolades and audience heartbreak are deserved. Hedwig and the Angry Inch director John Cameron Mitchell smartly plays this incisive, unexpectedly funny drama more conventionally than usual, allowing two terrifically understated performances and a richly drawn, emotionally honest script to take charge. Lionsgate, in limited release, lionsgate.com
You dont need to be familiar with Kim Ki-youngs 1960 psychodrama of the same namea landmark of South Korean cinema that spoke volumes about postwar male neurosesto dig into this lurid, black-humored reimagining from The Presidents Last Bang filmmaker Im Sang-soo. An upper-crust familys beautiful new hire falls victim to the seductions of the paterfamilias whose material worth allows him every whim. As a treatise on class warfare, it bangs its single note with style, but dont dismiss what might be the greatest WTF? ending of the year. IFC Films, in limited release, ifcfilms.com
Fritz Lang in Hollywood
January 28 to February 10
The Austrian-born legend may be best known for such works of expressionist genius as Metropolis and M, but his American studio career (beginning with 1936s Fury, here among the 22 features) remains a vital slice of the canon. Beyond new 35mm restorations of Western Union, American Guerilla in the Philippines, and The Return of Frank James (Langs first western and color film), there will be smartly paired double features, including the Edward G. Robinson one-two punch of The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org
Mysterious Skin and Smiley Face may have shown a growing maturity in filmmaker Gregg Arakis work, but in returning to the campy, scatological, punk-rock roots of his 90s comedies (The Doom Generation, Totally F***ed Up), the queercore auteur has unleashed a gonzo teen fantasy thats trippier, hornier, and more apocalyptically funny than Donnie Darko. Thomas Dekker stars as a bisexual college stud whose recurring dreams connect him to a candy-colored conspiracy involving animal masks and the supernatural. Theres seriously no easier way to describe thrills this deliriously dippy. IFC Films, in limited release, ifcfilms.com
February 17 to 24 Over the past four decades, this British documentary pioneer has used an array of techniques to tell vibrant tales on topics ranging from the American civil rights movement to the Beatles first visit to New York. Anthologys exhaustive retrospectivestarting with Fontaines early investigations as co-founder of Granada TVs World in Action series and on through his brand-new workfeatures a whos who of cultural icons and iconoclasts: Sonny Rollins, Norman Mailer, Jean Shrimpton, Huey Newton, Afrika Bambaataa, and Johnny Rotten. Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, anthologyfilmarchives.org
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
As a widower slowly dies of kidney failure in Thailands lush jungles, his dead wife materializes, as does his long-lost son (now a monkey ghost), and whats with that princess being orally pleasured by a talking catfish? A slow-burning cinematic riddle that worms its dreamy abstractions through the likes of melodrama, comedy, horror, fable, and documentary, Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakuls Palme dOr winner is a free-spirited, hypnotic masterpieceand thats not a word to be thrown around lightly. Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, filmforum.org
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