DIR/WRI: Andrew Haigh • PRO: Tristan Goligher • DOP: Lol Crawley • ED: Jonathan Alberts • DES: Sarah Finlay • MUS: Joseph Trapanese • CAST: Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine James, Tom Courtenay
Andrew Haigh’s marital drama 45 Years allows the audience to act as a fly on the wall in this intimate and unflinching film. We are introduced to Kate and Geoff Mercer, who are on the verge of celebrating their forty fifth wedding anniversary. They live in a country house in East Anglia. The bleak and grey landscape reflects the twilight years of their marriage, a relationship that survives on routine and monotony. At least that how it appears on the surface – a regular, retired, domesticated lifestyle with no surprises. Pop into town, cook some dinner and then bed. Maybe dunk a biscuit into a cup of tea on a wild Saturday night. The good life. That is until Geoff receives a letter informing him that a previous lover named Katya from his youth has been found dead.
She disappeared while they were romantically involved during the sixties before he ever met Kate. Naturally, this comes a quite a shock and at first Kate comforts Geoff as he reminisces about his old flame. However, soon Geoff begins taking too many liberties with his mourning and tension rises between the couple as they begin to question the foundations of their entire relationship. Geoff begins obsessing about the deceased woman, who has still to be lifted out of the glacier she fell into all those years ago. He buys a book on climate change, goes to a travel agency to inquire about flights, scrambles about the attic at night in search of old photographs. His nostalgic obsession of her causes her presence to haunt the home and cause a rift between the marriage.
Kate tries to keep it together and plan out their anniversary party, while Geoff escapes into his own world like a zombie. His demeanor and actions are like that of a child, it appears he has gone full circle in his antics. The movie is a slow burner in terms of its drama that slowly rises, and we feel tremendous empathy for Kate. However, the film does have its own subtle comedy that stems from Geoff’s erratic, infantile behaviour. He whines and curses about his old friends, he sneaks off for cigarettes, and for the majority of the film he looks spaced out, like the pod people for Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
It might seem ludicrous to compare 45 Years to a cult sci-fi, but in Invasion of the Body Snatchers the female protagonist also fears that her husband is not who he says he is anymore. The humour in 45 Years is quite dry and bitter. In the best scene in the movie, Kate’s world comes tumbling down on her after some domestic investigation in the attic. She discovers that Geoff has lied to her since the beginning about a major incident from his past. She knows nothing will be the same again. At this moment the phone rings and it is the party organiser, who proceeds to ask for her and Geoff’s favourite romantic songs. It’s a brave move to make such a sick joke for the films main dramatic piece, but then again Haigh doesn’t shy away from much in 45 Years. He allows us to focus on Kate’s expressions as she unveils some new information from Geoff, he doesn’t let us look away when the couple attempt having sex, or when Geoff vomits from too much alcohol.
For a film as confined and isolated as this it needs to exhibit some fine acting, which Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling simply outdo themselves as Geoff and Kate. So authentic and believable in their roles that at times I thought I was watching a documentary, a National Geographic show witnessing humans in their domesticated environment – tension’s rising as the female digs up the male’s skeletons in the closet.
15A (See IFCO for details)