"I've always been concerned as long as I've made films to celebrate the lives of ordinary people," said British director Mike Leigh Saturday morning in Cannes following an 8:30 screening of his latest, "Another Year." The not infrequently crusty and four-time Oscar nominated filmmaker appeared sometimes jovial, taking questions about Cannes competition film along with stars Lesley Manville, Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen.
A self-described admirer of the lives of "ordinary people," Leigh's well-received "Year" follows 12 months in the lives of a well-adjusted couple, a gracefully aging couple comfortable in their marriage, professional and home lives. Gerri (Sheen) is friends with her single co-worker, Mary, (Manville) who has not enjoyed the stability of a life long relationship. She is quick to lavish compliments, present a smile and lament past failed relationships while also guzzling down wine and longing for the fulfillment her married counterpart clearly possesses. Mary appears to only find some comfort in the loving home of her friend in order to escape the quiet loneliness of her life.
Though Leigh seemed to disagree that his film suggests that older singles are inherently unhappy, there were a small parade of characters who come into the couple's lives who happened to not be in a committed relationship. When a journalist questioned Leigh on the observation, asking why only coupled people appeared to be well-adjusted and happy in the film, Lesley Manville chimed in, "There are plenty of films that show unhappy married people."
"I think the film is sympathetic to [Mary]," offered up Leigh. "This is the kind of cinema that shows life the way it is. I don't think it shows Mary in a mean spirit. I allow for [the audience] to care for her, be sympathetic and even judge her if they wish. But the film is not so narrow as to be mean to her."
Alcohol is also a quiet co-star in the film. While Gerri and Tom (Broadbent) enjoy their evening wine, Mary tends to drink much more over the course of her many visits to the home. She takes extra large gulps from her glass and in one scene, flirts uncomfortably with Tom and Gerri's 30 year-old son. Other single acquaintances seem to take solace in the bottle, including an overweight male friend who makes a pass at Mary - much to her indignation.
"Alcohol and drugs are the sort of things people resort to to deal with their problems," said Leigh. "It's a sign of the coping, struggling and emotion of what the film is about."
While "Another Year" may contain darker elements than Leigh's last critically acclaimed, "Happy Go Lucky," he emphatically insisted Saturday that his latest is a positive depiction of the lives of the same ordinary people he finds endlessly fascinating.
"I feel this film is as life affirming as 'Happy Go Lucky.' I would hate it to be thought that this film is not life affirming, I think it is, but perhaps in a more complex way as 'Happy Go Lucky.'"
Continuing he added, "These kinds of films look at life in their great complexity. Each film is different. I try and make a film that is different from the other and takes a different perspective and uses a different shift."
Leigh managed to take a swipe at Hollywood for not appreciating the lives of everyday people, and instead keeping the spotlight on a mostly unattainable existence that is portrayed as common by studios, but in actuality rare.
"I'd like to think British films are motivated by what's happening in society as opposed to what is instead depicted in Hollywood movies, which is also something that afflicts to many British movies as well. This film is about how we come to terms with life and how we face ourselves and each other. It's difficult [and] the film doesn't have solutions. I hope it raises for all of you and for me thoughts about how we deal with life."