One thing a lot of movies are usually missing in the ability to convey emotional resonance and the unfortunate human condition of over thinking about things until they eventually become insurmountable problems. An affliction we can all admit to, we dwell on issues that we first dismiss as not important or something that we believe we can get past, making them a far more pressing dark cloud than we ever believed it to be. This is sort of the basis of the new acclaimed film from writer and director Andrew Haigh, 45 Years, a deeply human story with two true to life performances from leads Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.
A very short look into the lives of two characters who thought they knew everything about each other, 45 Years is a quick hour and a half trip into the lives of Geoff and Kate Mercer. With just week leading up to a party celebrating the 45th anniversary of their wedding, Geoff receives a letter in the mail from Switzerland. The letter informs him that a body had been recovered from a crevasse after being there for 50 years, that of his former lover who preceded Kate.
At first. Kate feels more dutiful to stand by Geoff. Their was a planned party for their 40th anniversary, five years before, but it was cancelled due to Geoff having heart bypass surgery leaving him in a more debilitated state. The strength of the Mercer’s marriage had always been strong but over the week Kate begins to dissect in her own mind the information she’d been given in the letter, what Geoff had told her about the incident and what irrational thoughts her own mind is throwing. If this has been kept secret for so long, what else could there be? Add to this, Geoff starting to descend into a sad nostalgia over the closure of this terrible time and the couple start to break apart from each other, throwing the future of their long union into doubt.
Haigh’s script is, along with Rampling and Courtenay, the major draw to this film. The death of Geoff’s former flame Katya is a major shift in everything the film is about yet the characters seem to almost try to talk around her rather than focus on her as the issue, making her just as much a ghost as she ever was. This is a sharp contrast to how damaging her learned existence both alive and dead actually is. Katya fast becomes a wedge in Geoff and Kate’s marriage fifty years after her tragic passing.
The direction of this film has to be noted with it’s similarities in the starting of each day with a wide shot of Kate taking her dog for a walk. The weather or even seasons appear to change within each day, slightly reflecting the emotion of the night before or even foreshadowing the demeanor of the day to come. Haigh also does many meaningful shots through windows that give a contradiction by allowing them a privacy from us, the viewer, but at the same time allowing us to intrusively spy on them. It’s an intriguing mirroring of the Mercer marriage.
I should forewarn you, the pacing of this film is very slow and could lose the majority of an audience very quickly. All the dialogue feels very true to how these character would talk to each other and the tension is felt in how the interaction start to lessen and start to reflect a certain banality as Kate begins to check out more. The movie’s draw underneath this is where the “audience losing” comes through as it is more geared towards everything Charlotte Rampling is reflecting in her silent moments and the things she can’t or won’t say. It’s a deep performance from an actress who can break our hearts again and again with a simple glance.
Leaving off on one of the most thought provoking final shots, 45 Years is a somber drama that will impress a cinema minded individual. It is by no means a conventional drama, instead giving a voyeuristic look into a marriage that looks like a sturdy brick mansion on the outside but is a stick formed structure on the inside that can go up in a blaze with the right spark. 45 Years is a sad reminder that even the sturdiest appearing relationships can all be undone with an ill timed communication. A solid four out of five from me.