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45 Years

April 1, 2016

45 Years (2015)
Director: Andrew Haigh
Actors: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James

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Synopsis: In the week leading up to the 45th wedding anniversary of Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling), a piece of news relating to Geoff’s past causes pangs of discontent to emerge in the marriage.

Review: It’s almost as if Charlotte Rampling has become a genre in her own right: Andrew Haigh being just the latest in a long line of directors looking to exact great mileage out of the innate depth and sheer watchability that Rampling’s raw materials – her face, voice and overall ‘persona’ – transmit.

On the surface though, this is an equal two-hander – an elegiac study of the subtle fissure that develops in a seemingly content couple approaching their 45th wedding anniversary, apparently well set in the quiet, time-honoured routines of their retired lives. That reading plays out in the rich depiction of the male half of the married couple, Geoff. It’s a very warm, convincing portrayal by Tom Courtenay with the characterisation coming from within his natural register, and Haigh places Geoff recognisably within the spectrum of a nice ‘gallows’ idiom for a seventy year-old man (it’s all about “ballcocks” and fixing the plumbing, and futile railing against the materialist changes in today’s society.) When Geoff movingly pays tribute to his wife in the closing speech of the 45th anniversary party it seems to stamp this notion of the film being about an equilibrium or compromise between its two married parties until the camera moves to focus on Rampling’s immediate, complex reaction to the speech as Geoff’s ‘loyal’ wife, Kate. For it’s at this point we realise that what we’ve been watching is Kate’s story, Geoff is only a player in that, and this reaction is the symbolic climax to the murk of malcontent that has festered in Kate since Geoff made his revelation about his old love in the film’s opening stretch.

Thus, in a sense it becomes even more Rampling’s film than Haigh’s or Courtenay’s. It harks back to some of her work with François Ozon, particularly the similarly enigmatic Under the Sand where Rampling portrays a wife frozen in shock amid spousal trauma and bourgeois scrutiny. In 45 Years, Haigh conjures a magical moment through the sheer look on Rampling’s face when her Kate covertly steals a glance at the slides of Geoff’s old lover; her expression speaking amply for the sentiment that you can’t compete against the ‘perfection’ of a ghost. At times, Haigh almost overstates his reliance on the subtextual undertow of Rampling’s suspenseful, watchful assimilation of her husband’s sentimental wobble. There’s certainly a slight portentousness and feeling for profundity in Haigh’s continual framing of Rampling in isolation or the extended close-ups that betray that attempt to overdemonstrate the story’s slowburn emotion. Nitpicking aside though, this is a convincing, studied portrayal of the essential unknowingness of the affairs of the human heart which even forty-five years of companionship cannot obscure, and it’s a bravura exemplar of mature storytelling where the temptation to wrap things up in an epiphanic, cathartic ending is waived for a more truthful, continuous view of the flux of life’s “slings and arrows”. (April 2016)

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