Overview: Kate and Geoff have a week to go until their party, celebrating their 45th anniversary. The childless couple live comfortably in a small Norfolk town, until shattering news arrives for Geoff – his ex-girlfriend’s body has been found, 50 years after she slipped into an Alpine crevasse. Writer-Director Andrew Haigh brings us a fascinating study of marriage, memory, and time that is as charming as it is devastating. Artificial Eye; 2015; NR; 95 minutes.
Double Act: While it was adapted from a short story by David Constantine, there’s only a passing resemblance to the original material. Haigh has developed the central image of a 50-year-old relationship returning to the present day, perfectly-preserved, into a spellbinding account of how time doesn’t heal all wounds. Both Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling are effortlessly good as Geoff and Kate, but the overall focus is on Rampling, and she is magnificent. There is an improvisational tone during certain exchanges that just adds to the sense of realism, the director knowing he can rely on the efforts of the two actors to play around with the script. This same tone can be found in Haigh’s previous work, 2011’s Weekend, which is similarly focused on the relationship between two people over a short time-frame, in that case two men falling in love following a one-night stand. (It’s brilliant. Go watch it!) Another similarity between this and Weekend is how expertly is captures England. Rarely do I see films that so successfully translate the feel of modern English life, whether it be nights out in Norwich or a small town on the Norfolk Broads.
Exceeding Expectations: There have been numerous occasions this year where I believed I had found my favourite film of 2015, thinking that nothing could top it. It has happened again, and while there’s still time left for things to change, I am certain that this will at least have the best ending of the year. I obviously won’t go into that, though Tom Courtenay does in his interviews, so avoid those until you’ve seen it. There are a few shocking moments throughout, but this is a film of which plot is both important and secondary. While the ongoing discovery of the reality of the past is its driving force, it is the repercussions and responses of the two leads that make 45 Years so absorbing. There is no score. We only hear the music the characters hear, all of which bring memories to the surface – the good and the bad. One particular shot of Kate basking in the sun by her kitchen window, as the clouds intermittently cast shadow over the house, is a perfect illustration of the ups and downs of a relationship nearing half a century. It’s not a life-affirming story of love in face of adversity, but it’s also not a tragedy about the dissolution of marriage. I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched where this could all lead, and each time I was surprised, each predictable development swapped out for something more human.
It’s All In The Detail: The level of character detail is stunning, with dialogue and environments often subtly expressing who these people are, and who they were. Previous events garner more context once we realise that Geoff was born into a lower class than his wife, a former trade-unionist whose politics and personality are influenced by the Thatcher era and its losses. At one point Kate says “funny how you forget the things that made you happy”, and when we later see her tentatively play the piano, there’s a sense that there’s a lot that has been left by the wayside during their time together. There are times when we are on Geoff’s side and times when we are on Kate’s. They both human, flawed people that are sometimes unfair, sometimes spiteful and selfish but come to support the other, even when they are at their worst. It’s a balance which is subject to the ebb-and-flow of life, and the tension comes from the fear that the spectre of Katya is something neither of them can bear.
Overall: 45 Years could have settled for being a character study, a metaphor-driven drama, or a tragic tale of time’s effect on love. That’s not enough for Haigh, and so he includes all these things and more. We are shown the mechanics of a relationship that has settled into routine but is still subject to the emotion of two individuals who can never truly know everything about each other. These ideas are intertwined into the fabric of the film, assuring it will be worth re-watching. It’s one of the best films of the year, and one whose message is ambiguous enough to inspire discussions among its audiences.
Featured Image: Artificial Eye