From Weekend to working on HBO’s much underrated (and recently cancelled) Looking, writer and director Andrew Haigh has a rare, subtle ear for naturalistic dialogue and performances. Weekend was charming and reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before… series, focussing on a gay relationship taking place over the restricted period of just a couple days, whilst Looking‘s take on a group of gay friends in San Francisco forgoes cliché for frank, complicated characters getting on with life. In 45 Years, Haigh takes a step away from writing ‘gay drama’, instead adapting a David Constantine short story about an older couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) trying to come to terms with a skeleton quite literally dug up from the past. The same strong feelings of time, trust and melancholy are as prevalent as in Haigh’s earlier work.
45 Years takes place in just 5 days leading up to Kate and Geoff’s 45th anniversary party. Geoff receives a letter explaining that the body of his former love has been discovered. She died whilst they were exploring together in the Swiss Alps, half a century ago, frozen in time beneath a glacier. A quiet, surprised confusion lingers. He had told his wife about this lady but never went into the details. It didn’t seem like something to burden a new girlfriend, he explains. It’s this uncovering of her husband’s past relationship which plays heavily on Kate’s mind, not just because she realises how in love he was with another woman who past away so tragically, but because he had never told her the whole truth even after so many years of their being together. There is such a genuine feeling of warmth between the two leads, you can feel and embrace their years together. They’re imperfect and delightful. The performances from Rampling and Courtenay are tender and delicately understated. They are frequently heartbreaking and instantly recognisable, deservedly each winning awards for Best Actress and Actor at the Berlin Film Festival.
There are some gorgeous long outdoor shots, but it’s the way that the characters are framed more intimately which really sticks out. Rampling is in frame for almost the entire film. It’s curious how the couple’s relationship is the film’s central dilemma, yet through positioning the focus of each shot onto her charatcer, the audience can reflect and immerse themselves into her melancholy. There’s a scene in which she is watching old slides of her husband’s former romance against a white sheet in the attic, a gorgeous blend of disparate light seeping into a blurred past. The film is powerfully intimate into the quiet self doubt of the characters, exchanged through the way they look at each other as much as what they say. 45 Years might be quiet and slow and not to everybody’s taste, but it hides away from nothing. There’s even a sex scene and it’s unflinching and beautifully pure and honest.
Towards the end of the film, Geoff makes a speech explaining how the decisions we make when we are young are the most important ones we ever make, because as we get older we get too tired to make big decisions. The feeling of time passing day by day over five days is elegantly juxtaposed against the enduring affection and effort of their 45 year marriage, with time being almost sentient, melding the characters together regardless of mistakes and surprises.
Review by David Rank
45 Years is out on 28th August in the UK. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 95 mins.