Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘45 Years’ a timeless tale of love and loss

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in "45 Years." (Artificial Eye)
Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay in “45 Years.” (Artificial Eye)

Andrew Haigh’s third feature film “45 Years” will strike a chord thanks to its unflinchingly realistic portrayal of married life and what it means to love. It’s a stunning piece of cinema that is as visually pleasing as its plot and dialogue is authentic.

“45 Years” is a melodrama that develops its characters and story slowly, so if you prefer fast paced, edge-of-your-seat dramas then this won’t be for you. Nonetheless, the film is a cinematic masterpiece. It’s an adaptation from a short story – which is surprising, as normally much is lost when stories are translated to screen, but it’s hard to imagine this narrative without the impeccably subtle acting from Charlotte Rampling.

The film’s plot is simple and understated, reminiscent of a carefully crafted play. It centers on Kate and Geoff Mercer (played by Rampling and Tom Courtenay, respectively), a married couple preparing for their 45th wedding anniversary.

Their routine and seemingly stale life is thrown into turmoil after Geoff receives a letter notifying him of the discovery of the body of his former lover, Katya. This revelation troubles Kate – she’s disturbed by her husband’s unrelenting shock and rapidly growing obsession with the news. To add further horror to the event, Katya has been perfectly preserved in ice for over 40 years after a tragic accident in the Swiss Alps, which raises doubts and questions in Geoff’s mind about aging, lost love and a past long forgotten.

From this premise Haigh manages to avoid most cliché’s of dramatic confrontations and arguments. Instead, he has the couple deal with their predicament with such chilling realism that most of the film’s drama and meaning actually comes through Rampling’s expressive eyes.

“45 Years” is set over a period of one week in which we see a marriage on the verge of collapse through subtle cues and sensitive dialogue. One such line includes Kate reluctantly asking her husband if he would have married Katya had the accident not occurred, to which he replies “Yes.” The script offers a glimpse into the attitudes, fears and lives of the older generation. That is what is so important about this film – the way Haigh represents age and the relationship between the couple.

Clever cinematography often frames scenes through the couple’s kitchen window from the inside and at times from the outside, which works to gives the film a strangely voyeuristic feel. There is a particular scene in which Haigh unapologetically includes Kate and Geoff undressing and attempting to make love.

The film introduces further revelations that force Kate to reassess the meaning of her 45 year-long marriage. The couple becomes more distant from one another as each partner attempts to deal with the news while keeping up appearances with friends who are all eagerly arranging their anniversary party.

A stunning climax sees husband and wife try to outwardly show their love for one another – one notable shot drenches them in a blue spotlight while they dance (their solemnity unbeknownst to the onlookers and well-wishers) to their aptly chosen wedding song, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” The couple appears ghost-like, shadows of their former solidarity and selves, and the camera lingers finally on Kate’s empty, tired face.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay deliver superb performances, and the scenes of the English countryside drenched in blue hues give a sense of nostalgia for an idea of England which fits in well with Kate’s longing to return to the life she knew before the news of Katya. The film is accompanied by a collection of 1960s popular love songs, which serve the narrative so well it is hard to imagine scenes managing without them.

“45 Years” confronts the story of two people trying to make sense of an ending, of the longing for a life altered forever more and what it means to have to reevaluate everything you have ever known. An exceptional film of robust, elegant beauty, Haigh’s latest effort is a must-see.

Harry William Hennah can be reached at [email protected].

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