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45 Years [AFI FEST 2015]
IFC Films // Unrated // December 23, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Afi]
There are countless love stories being told through the use of cinema, which is making it more difficult for these features to stand apart from one another. However, we usually still manage to receive masterful features that tackle this subject matter every year. Writer/director Andrew Haigh is known for creating one of these titled Weekend. It explores a homosexual relationship in a way that freed it from the stereotypes that many have come to expect from LGBT filmmaking, which was an absolute breath of fresh air. In his first feature since then, Haigh tackles a forty-five year heterosexual marriage in a film with the title of 45 Years.
Leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Coutenay) receive an unexpected letter containing news that could change their lives forever. Geoff has discovered that a past love was found dead, which will ultimately shock their long-standing marriage to its core.
While a couple supporting characters occasionally come and go, the majority of the film is appropriately spent telling the subtle story between Geoff and Kate. Despite the fact that they have been married for an entire forty-five years, they still continue to learn more about each other. When the letter arrives in the mail, Kate is concerned about her husband's feelings towards this woman who has passed away, but is trying to be supportive. However, she doesn't recall him discussing this woman much, although Geoff swears that he has. This ultimately creates a wedge between them that continues to separate them. As 45 Years proceeds, we come to discover that this is actually Kate's story. Since it's told from her perspective, we easily sympathize with her position. She wants to be there for Geoff in a difficult time, but becomes understandably frustrated when this letter has resulted in him acting like an entirely different person.
A film that begins as a love story slowly transforms into somewhat of a tragedy. While it's incredibly subtle, we begin to see as one problem after the next begins to arise in their marriage. The man that Geoff was introduced as is not the same individual found later in the film. He has become somewhat reclusive and closed off, even to Kate. She's undeniably interested in the feelings that this woman and her husband had for each other, but it clearly deals her a lot of pain. This is greatly interpreted in Haigh's visual design. 45 Years is not filmed like the traditional drama, but has elements that one would expect to find from a horror film. The cinematography is often eerie, especially as Kate begins to learn more about Geoff's past. This is a beautiful, yet heavy screenplay that delivers quite the impact.
Even though 45 Years has a screenplay that is absolutely fantastic, it may be a bit too slow-moving for some. The pacing intentionally crawls, as it's more about character development and the core relationship than it is about anything else. If you're looking for big, "showy" dramatic moments, you won't find them here. Haigh is incredibly subtle and realistic in the way that he depicts conflict, which is actually quite refreshing. There's a haunting tone that underlies the entire picture, which continued to stay with me long after the credits finished rolling. The final sequence is thought-provoking, emotional, and impactful.
After winning two Silver Berlin Bears at the Berlin International Film Festival for its two lead performances, 45 Years has continued to impress audiences across the festival circuit. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are extremely deserving of this recognition for their portrayals of Kate and Geoff, respectively. Rampling is absolutely spellbinding, as she brings some subtle nuances to the role that results in quite the impact. Much like Haigh's overall tone, it's the small, quiet details of her performance that make it so brilliant. Courtenay does a wonderful job in achieving the very same goal. As he continues to distance himself more and more from his marriage partner, he truly immerses us in a marriage that we know little about. The two actors share an outstanding sense of chemistry that truly makes the audience become deeply invested in their well-being.
45 Years displays that writer/director Andrew Haigh is masterful in his depiction of relationships. His previous feature Weekend shows a new love, while this portrays one that has been going strong for decades. However, even after all of these years, they continue to learn new things about one another, which ultimately places a wedge between them. Some may be underwhelmed by the film's lack of a big, climactic conclusion, but this is actually one of the feature's many strengths. It avoids many of the dramatic clichés by telling a story that feels both unique and impactful in the most subtle of ways. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are absolutely exceptional in delivering a story that is both touching and haunting. Its subtle nature has continued to follow me long after watching the film. 45 Years is a love story unlike any other. It's undeniably awe-inspiring. Highly recommended!
45 Years played at AFI FEST 2015 presented by Audi on November 12th.