Directed by Andrew Haigh (2015)
Charlotte Rampling's expressive face can say more in a tiny grimace or raised eyebrow than anything my own blank canvas can even when I'm mugging and cavorting like a gorilla - which is why she's an acting legend, and why I'm here writing about her on a blog. She, Kate, ends the final seconds of "45 YEARS" with a withered look for the ages, one that effectively sums up the film, as well as the future of her relationship with her husband Geoff, played marvelously by Tom Courtenay. Rampling garnered her share of huzzahs and kudos for this role last year, and most deservedly so.
All that said, "45 YEARS" is a good, yet not great, film. It's an acting masterclass from two longtime English thespians, who portray both the frustrations and comfort of old age with grace, class and pathos. It concerns a letter received by Geoff in their cottage home, notifying him that his dead ex-girlfriend - one he's really not talked about much in his and Kate's 45 years together - has been found, frozen in a block of ice in the Swiss mountains where she perished in the early 1960s. All of a sudden, a marriage predicated on predictability and pattern has a new wrinkle, one that sends Geoff into furtive, middle-of-the-night activity as he grapples with this re-entry of his first love's memory. Its effect on their marriage over the course of a week is slow but subtly poisonous, as more is revealed and domestic tranquility is gently roiled.
I found myself frustrated by two things: first, director Haigh's pacing and editing choices. He seems to have dialed down what could have been a slightly more incendiary collision of the past with the present in how he lets it unfold. Mind you, I don't necessarily need a knock-down, drag-out screaming fit nor a secret murder or suicide to up the stakes, and yet I think the story calls for something a touch more dramatic than what we're given. Second, when Kate and Geoff talk about the matter at hand, their language and subtext-avoidant Englishness is the greatest contributor to the distance between them. You wonder how they've got on so well for 45 years - by burying anything remotely controversial in a pit in their respective stomachs? I suppose some marriages work just fine with that strategy, don't they.
Rampling got most of the hosannas for this one, yet I think Courtenay was even better. His sweetly befuddled, mildly cantankerous Geoff is a spot-on portrayal of the fading but still vibrant older male, and his reaction to his shocking news from his past - as he pads around their cottage in his underwear - is a further dose of realism and drama in a film not lacking for it. Worth a watch for sure, with the aforementioned caveats.