Releasing into art house theaters this weekend is one of the most shining examples of depth and power in independent filmmaking, 45 YEARS. With nary a superhero or explosion is sight, the film relies upon tight dialogue involving nuanced characterizations and relationships to maintain interest and connect with audiences. Director Andrew Haigh, who impressed critics with 2011 award-winning chamber piece WEEKEND, brings us a film starring two cinematic icons, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, that examines the altered landscape of a life-long relationship confronted with the destructive force of secrets, set amidst the unchanging, peaceful landscape of the bucolic English countryside.
A week before Kate Mercer (Rampling) is celebrating her 45th wedding anniversary with husband Geoff (Courtenay), a letter comes announcing that the body of Geoff’s first love has been found, frozen and preserved in the Swiss Alps. The news in this letter looms like a dangerous stranger in their house. How it effects them individually and shakes the foundation of their marriage and happiness, is the subject that gets the pressure-cooker treatment, offered with a subtlety and nuance only Rampling and Courtenay can deliver. That both actors have a huge base of loyal fans is a testament to the quality of the work they have done and consistently do, when films worthy of them get made. I am always excited to see Courtenay, a personal favorite since 1984’s THE DRESSER, for which he was nominated for both a BAFTA and an Oscar. At a time when ageism, sexism, and bigotry is being called out in Hollywood, here is a film with two actors, beyond a certain age, showing why the world would always be the worse for great talents being underutilized.
45 YEARS is a rumination on authenticity in love relationships, and in this story of two people who have chosen each other, it searches for and finds the center of comfort and heartbreak, suffering and forgiveness. It asks the question, “what is intimacy?”. 45 YEARS is adapted by director Haigh from the David Constantine short story “In Another Country,” and Haigh keeps the dialogue authentic and realistic, and as the director he allows Rampling and Courtenay to mine every word. One walks out of the film wondering if there’s ever been more subtext bubbling underneath the interactions between two characters in a film.
Charlotte Rampling as the dark horse of the Academy Awards for the best actress Oscar is an absurd example of how the awards work. She may not have the broadness or flash necessary to capture the easy vote. She is not flamboyant as Kate, nor would the role work if she were. She is, however, entirely immersed in the character, exposing every repressed fear like a virtuoso adding just the right amount of tremolo on the notes she plays. Kate looks as if she is about to explode, or implode, or crumble, and as an audience we become fascinated by her. We will go wherever Rampling takes her. That is the power of great acting, and it deserves to be recognized.
45 YEARS is essential viewing for anyone who wants a fair understanding of the Oscar Best Actress nominees, as well as anyone who wants to see a deep, moving chamber piece that actually requires attention and full emotional engagement. What is intimacy? What is betrayal? What is the nature of true love? These are questions worth asking, and are laid bare beautifully in 45 YEARS.