Movie Review: ’45 YEARS’ is as good as Charlotte Rampling’s Oscar-nominated performance

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

45 YEARS | 95 min | R
Director: Andrew Haigh
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay and Geraldine James

Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship knows that there are ebbs and flows, ups and downs during its duration. Most of the time, it has to do with something menial, but there are those big instances that make or break a relationship. Cinema has always made these scenarios play out for audiences on screen because it is a universal moment, felt through moviegoers regardless of the typical demographic. Just last year, films like BROOKLYN, TRAINWRECK, THE DANISH GIRL and THE OVERNIGHT dealt with relationships that try to navigate troubled waters.

Another aspect in common with these examples is that they are all relationships where the female lead is front-and-center, their relationships with their significant others hindering on a decision to be made. “Do I want to continue down this path? Is our love strong enough to endure anything that comes our way?”

However, most of these films either have the relationship start within a narrative arc, or already exist but still haven’t been together long enough to know everything about each other. In Andrew Haigh’s 45 YEARS, a couple who have been together for the titular amount of time, have one last bump in the road, which happens to be bigger than they could’ve imagined.

Kate (Charlotte Rampling, in an Oscar-nominated performance) has been with Geoff (Tom Courtenay) through thick and thin. It is several days before their 45th anniversary party, when Geoff receives a letter from Switzerland. Katia, Geoff’s girlfriend from before meeting Kate, has been found, long lost in the Swiss mountains since dying from an accident almost 50 years ago.

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in Andrew Haigh's film 45 YEARS. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in Andrew Haigh’s film 45 YEARS. Photo courtesy of IFC Films.

At first, Kate is supportive, talking Geoff through his emotions as she’s always done. However, the discovery of Katia’s body leads Geoff to get lost in the past. The days leading up to the party go by, and Kate begins to feel more and more disconnected, as her husband cheats on her with his memories. At one point, Kate voices how it makes her wonder if all of the big decisions he’s made in their marriage have been because of Katia. Is this Geoff reacting to lost love, or has that love been in their marriage the whole time?

The beauty of 45 YEARS is that it has nothing but honesty in its storytelling. Never does it try to play on the emotions of the viewer, manipulating everything for a climactic moment. Kate and Geoff are always open and honest with each other; even if they don’t share everything immediately, it will still come to light in discussion. How they converse, how they look at each other drives the tension as it changes from the opening scene to the closing credits.

The performances by Rampling and Courtenay are exquisite as both Kate and Geoff struggle with the realization that these emotions have been tabled for far too long. They both shrugged it off as they started their life together, and kept it in the past. They both grieve with heartbreak for different reasons; Kate is grieving for the fact that her perception of their marriage has died, and Geoff is grieving all over again from emotions that he suppressed.

Haigh makes sure to keep the focus solely on Kate, as the narrative is in her perspective. There are several shots throughout the movie of Kate, in frame, talking to Geoff, who is off camera. Geoff may be in the same room, but he is not truly with his wife. She won’t be ignored as she fights to not save their marriage, but save the sanctity of their marriage.

Also, the use of long takes throughout the film help to make the audience focus on their pain, the moments in between a conversation that makes a viewer take note of the body language as they sit in silence. The sullen glances, the change of breathing pace, etc. are all important for a character study. Setting the narrative in a countryside home, bereft of gloom and grey, isolated on the pasture sets the tone for the troubled and foggy intimacy felt in Kate and Geoff.

45 YEARS is an achingly beautiful story of love that is never really without its troubles, and unconditional love is always tested by some condition or another. Kate and Geoff truly love each other, and it is Kate’s love that is tested, as she uses her personal strength to try and move past this instance. The past is always carrying an investment into a relationship, and suppression, even though well-intended, cannot last forever. 45 YEARS shows that no matter the length of the relationship, there is always something defining this love.

45 YEARS opens today in select theaters.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.