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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 05
45 Years an emotionally rapturous masterpiece
Arts & Entertainment
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45 Years an emotionally rapturous masterpiece

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

45 YEARS
Now playing


Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) are making plans to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. But as preparations near completion, a past mystery comes back to haunt them, forcing the pair to look at one another in a light they never have before. Back in 1962, Geoff was on holiday in Switzerland with his then girlfriend Katya, the pair hiking a glacier when tragedy struck. All these years later, the body has finally been recovered, officials letting the longtime married Brit know about it as he was the closest thing to next of kin they could find for her.

There's not a lot more to say as far as plot is concerned in regards to writer/director Andrew Haigh's (Weekend) sophomore feature 45 Years, itself a loose adaptation of the short story by writer David Constantine, yet the film itself is extraordinary. Beyond that, if I'm being honest, what the director accomplishes is so sensational by the time his latest came to an end it had taken my breath clean away. This is a tale with no heroes, no villains, just one filled with life, loss, understanding and, most of all, love, Kate and Geoff's journey towards their anniversary party as universal and as human as any that has ever graced the screen.

The big deal is just how understatedly sincere Haigh manages to make things. Kate and Geoff know all there is to know about one another, so much so they can go almost an entire day without saying nary a word yet still are able to communicate volumes. All of which makes each Mercer's reaction to the discovery of Katya's remains startling. Geoff becomes obsessed, almost preternaturally compelled to revisit his relationship with the woman he almost married, initially not comprehending why his wife is so shocked by it all. Kate wants to be supportive, wants to be the good wife who understands what her husband is going through, yet the realization that he potentially loved another, maybe more than he does her, pushes buttons she didn't even know she possessed.

This is the battle that rages throughout the remainder of 45 Years, one with few raised voices, not many arguments and very little in the way of confrontation. Yet tension rises throughout, Kate and Geoff learning more about one another in these few days before the anniversary party than they potentially knew at any point during the 45 years they've spent happily married. The truth about Katya isn't so much a shock to the system as it is a reminder of how unforeseen twists in life's design can throw even the most contented and conscientious into something akin to a tailspin, and how only through communication and dialogue can things ultimately be set right.

Having never read Constantine's short story, I do not know how closely Haigh's script mirrors it. Even so, the latter's screenwriting is some of 2015's finest, the subtlety driving the character transformations magnificent. Haigh doesn't preach, never overextends, instead allowing revelations to come gradually, and as such the pair's marriage feels all the more natural and concrete because of this. Watching Kate crumble as she learns more about Geoff's time with Katya is heartbreaking, her single-minded tenacity to keep planning their anniversary party making her frustrations in regards to these ever-expanding feelings of jealousy all the more naturalistic.

Both Rampling and Courtney are superb, and while the performances do draw from their youthfully iconic turns in films like Georgy Girl and The Damned for her, and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Billy Liar for him, there is a unique, utterly transformative quality to the duo's work that sets it apart from anything either has done previously. For Rampling, much of what she is asked to accomplish must be done with facial expressions and physicality alone, the words she does speak having multiple meanings that go in numerous directions all at once. As for Courtney, Geoff is a man who says what is on his mind right at that given moment, rarely comprehending the emotional hammer descending upon his wife's psyche when he does so. The actor manages a glorious balancing act throughout, never over or underplaying things at any time, thus when heartfelt declarations are called for the moment rings with an eloquent authenticity that filled my heart with joy.

Haigh's Weekend was a thoughtful, life-affirming drama chronicling the early first steps of a burgeoning romantic relationship between two wary men, each falling into the arms of the other as if compelled by lust, never imagining a deeper connection was also forming. With 45 Years, the writer/director chooses to focus on the other end of the spectrum, Kate and Geoff, even though they married young, both well aware they're nearing the end of a run together filled with blissful highs, brutal lows and indescribable in-betweens. Both motion pictures showcase a filmmaker of transcendent depth and maturity, one able to mine emotional interiors that startle and amaze yet also enchant and reassure. His latest isn't just one of the year's best films, it's also an instant classic, a drama of profound majesty sure to be marveled at for many years to come.

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