Title: 45 Years
Genre: Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Andrew Haigh
based on David Constantine’s short story
Cinematography: Lol Crawley
After his breakthrough indie drama WEEKEND (2011), UK director/writer Andrew Haigh has been occupied to produce and direct HBO’s high-profile gay series LOOKING, which woefully gets shortchanged after two seasons, with a special TV movie wrapping up the loose ends, coming this year, which is also directed by Haigh. Then, there is 45 YEARS, the official follow-up of WEEKEND, which deservingly wins her first-ever Oscar nomination for the acting legend Charlotte Rampling, although, both Rampling and Courtenay have been honoured with a Silver Berlin Bear for their excellence.
The story takes on an unadorned two-hander between a married straight couple Kate (Rampling) and Geoffrey (Courtenay), who are anticipating their 45-year wedding anniversary in the upcoming Saturday. But the news of discovering Geoffrey’s long-deceased girlfriend’s body, which is well-preserved in the Alps glacier for half-a-century, causes a seismic disturbance in their placid and seemingly perfect life. While Geoffrey is again dragged into sorrow and reminiscences of the tragic accident, Kate must accept a painful realisation that her husband’s feeling for his dead ex-lover is much more than she has expected and the upshot is forever changing their relationship.
Haigh’s script sustains a detailed-but-unpretentious character study, especially for Kate, since she is the unbending focus of the camera most of the time. Asking ourselves a question, what the odds can it be for a couple, both are each other’s first choice in their monogamy relationship? A lopsided situation must be the norm, whereas most people know it from an early stage and manage to accept it or move on to a new one, in Kate’s case, it strikes as a bolt out of blue, because it shatters the entire harmonious front of their perfect marriage, she never really knows her husband after all these 45 years and she is only the second-best for him, or worse, a substitute of a dead woman whose spectre not only haunts Geoffrey, but also envelopes her now. But is Geoffrey is the one to blame? My take is negative, he is a man traumatised after the loss of his true love(s) and never recovers, he can no longer love another woman that way, and like any ordinary man, he tries really hard to conceal the wound and slum it, but no one can change the past, no even time can heal him, it is a plain tragedy eternally dwells in the limbo until one of them decides to opt out.
Rampling restrains herself from her customary person of detachment and frigidity, transmogrifies into a warm-hearted woman stranded in an emotional bog, nonplussed by an unexpected revelation which triggers a sea change in her entire life, throughout, it is an enthralling performance beautifully rendered without a false note. Courtenay, affected by the disadvantage of Geoffrey’s withdrawn nature and Haigh’s directional choice, plays second fiddle to Rampling, but his final anniversary speech is a resounding moment blended with sincerity, feigning and contrition, where ambiguity stands out in its best form.
The ending is also a big plus to this indie gem, in their wedding anniversary, during a pas de deux accompanied by The Platters’ SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, the very song played in their wedding ceremony 45 years earlier, Kate’s forced cheerfulness suddenly disappears and she gets out of the grip of Geoffrey, everything retreats to a hollow background, after all, is it worth celebrating an utter sham for the sake of its lengthiness? We feel as despondent as she is, is there a way out? Then, the film winds up without showing us an exit, like in WEEKEND, Haigh accentuates that in real life, there is no easy way out.