CANNES, France A happy couple with unhappy friends form the basis of "Another Year," British director Mike Leigh's characteristically wry exploration of flawed humanity showing at the Cannes film festival.
Tom and his wife Gerri, played by Leigh regulars Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen have been together for 40 years, raising their son Joe, working on their garden and playing occasional host to friends like Gerri's scatty colleague Mary.
As in many of Leigh's films, drama comes in small doses, usually accompanied by a melancholy comedy that underlines the everyday humanity of life in the London suburb where Tom and Gerri have their semi-detached house.
"I've always been concerned, for as long as I've ever been making films or stage plays, with celebrating the lives of ordinary people. That's what it's all about," the director told reporters after the film's press screening.
Tom and Gerri's middle-aged contentment is balanced by Mary, given to rambling, wine-fuelled monologues, or the overweight, chain-smoking Ken, railing against the replacement of his favourite pubs by trendy bars full of young people.
Their son's new girlfriend, the death of a relative and occasional glimpses of Gerri's work as a hospital counsellor or Tom's job as an engineer make up the rest of the action but there is little in the way of a conventional plot.
Dividing the film into four seasonal episodes, each of which shows Tom and Gerri at work in their small garden allotment, Leigh said he had tried to anchor their lives in the physical world around them.
"Here we've tried to create a world where you really feel the seasons, you feel the air that they're breathing, you feel the connection with the earth, you see it and it should resonate with what ordinary people's lives are about," he said.
One of Britain's most celebrated filmmakers, who won the Golden Palm award at Cannes in 1996 for "Secrets and Lies," Leigh always has worked outside the Hollywood mainstream but he said he hoped the kind of films he made had their place.
"I would like to think that British films were motivated by things that are going on in society, out there in the real world, as opposed to synthetic notions of what life is about as in Hollywood movies, which is something which affects a lot of British cinema," he said.
Leigh's acerbic streak appeared on a couple of occasions in his press conference, notably when he refused to answer a question from a British journalist, but "Another Year" is resolutely philosophical in tone.
"The film is about how we come to terms with life, how we face ourselves and each other, how we face what we are," he said.
"As much as anything, that is how we learn how to enjoy and celebrate life as we go on and get older but also how to deal with its exigencies."
(Editing by Michael Roddy)