21 February 2016 | Movie_Muse_Reviews
It feels slow, but '45 Years' is rich in depth of storytelling and acting
The life of an old married couple doesn't exactly sound like riveting cinematic fodder, especially for moviegoers below the age of 65, but "45 Years" captures the mechanics of relationships, mechanics that are universal and span multiple generations.
The greatest indicator that "45 Years" isn't some niche geriatric film is director Andrew Haigh, a much younger director who is best known for making LGBTQ films, namely 2011's "Weekend." So, as someone who isn't a heterosexual senior, Haigh brings a different perspective to this story, along with a lot of grace and brilliant directorial instincts.
"45 Years" introduces us to Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) Mercer one week before their big 45th anniversary party. Although the week begins routine as usual, they receive quite a shock when Geoff gets a letter informing him that the body of a woman whom he loved as a younger man (before he met Kate) who died in an accident had been found (somewhat preserved in ice). The news absolutely rattles Geoff into a rather nostalgic daze, while Kate tries to come to terms with the weight of something she had shrugged off for nearly half a century.
We watch the story unfold from Kate's perspective, which keeps Geoff's thoughts and emotions an enigma and allows us to firmly plant ourselves in Kate's shoes. We also get glimpses of their relationship dynamic, which is powerfully authentic and relatable, adding another layer to what seems like it should be a rather simple conflict to resolve, but grows in chilling complexity.
Haigh's camera is quiet, careful and poised. There are wide shots and close-ups alike, along with methodical zooms, giving the actors — especially Rampling — incredible space to work. The result is a slow and yes, perhaps boring film at times, but if you really focus on the performances, the pacing becomes strangely irrelevant. We are given so much time to dive into Kate's headspace and Rampling provides these incredible cues once we're there.
The best way to describe the flow of "45 Years" is to liken it to a thawing. From the outdoor scenery around their quaint home in the British countryside to the details of Geoff's love "Katya" (notice the name similarity to his current wife) being found in ice, there's a notion that what was frozen in the past has now finally melted, that spring is coming and with it so much more. Kate and Geoff's relationship is at this melting point, and how they handle it will mean everything.
For such a simple film, there's something deeply unsettling about "45 Years" and that achievement alone suggests Haigh has struck some deep chords in this exploration of a relationship. We look to couples who have been married this long for inspiration and comfort, yet Haigh doesn't give it to us, and it raises a lot of really valuable questions. So it might not be easy to enjoy, but "45 Years" is truly a superb film and important character study.
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