45 YEARS Review
Director: Andrew Haigh
The word “immersive” gets thrown around a lot nowadays when it comes to movies. Usually it’s in reference to big 3D or IMAX sci-fi extravaganzas like AVATAR and INTERSTELLAR, flicks where you feel like you can almost reach out and touch the pseudo-philosophical platitudes spilling from Anne Hathaway’s mouth. In truth, films have always been looking for gimmicks to make moviegoers feel like they are inside the story, from 3D, to Smell-O-Vision, to William Castle horror tricks like making chairs vibrate or planting “fainters and screamers” in an audience. Here’s the thing, though: 45 YEARS is possibly the most immersive film I’ve seen this year, and I watched it on a borrowed DVD screener on my laptop screen that never quite seems clean enough. And it does so by doing the opposite of all the methods I’ve mentioned above. It is filmmaking so delicate, so natural that it creates a negative space it demands the viewer to fill.
45 YEARS is English director Andrew Haigh’s third feature film and his first since the cancellation of LOOKING, an HBO dramedy series about gay life in San Francisco which he produced and wrote for. Based on the short story “In Another Country” by David Constantine, it follows an elderly British couple, Kate and Geoff Mercer, nearing their 45th anniversary. Geoff receives a letter from the Swiss authorities informing him that Katya, his ex-girlfriend, has been found frozen in a glacier, perfectly preserved after an accident during a trip they took 50 years earlier. Geoff’s melancholy in the wake of this news forces Kate to see their marriage in a new and uncomfortable light.
The most likely reason that you are reading this review is that Charlotte Rampling has been nominated for an Academy Award for her turn as Kate, and it is well deserved. No one else who has been nominated can touch her and if she loses to anyone other than maybe Cate Blanchett, it will be an outrage. This is a performance that goes beyond a Hollywood star putting on a wig and an accent to wade their way through a biopic. Rampling (and Tom Courtenay, her equally stunning co-star) go in the opposite direction: burrowing so deeply into these characters that you are not aware they are putting on awards-worthy performances. You watch Kate drink a cup of tea. You watch her dance with her husband. You watch her lose more and more faith in him by the moment. As far as 45 YEARS is concerned, Charlotte Rampling doesn’t even exist and Oscars will be the farthest thing from your mind when you watch it.
It’s like AMOUR, but for old people…
It is this aspect of realism, of truth, that pulls one into the film. 45 YEARS is certainly not chock-full of action or plot twists. It chugs along at a deliberate pace, pulling you deeper and deeper into its clutches despite a growing sense that things cannot end well. Luckily, Kate and Geoff are nice enough to spend time with. Less luckily, one can rather see what is coming. This is not a groundbreaking or surprising film, just one of immense quality. It may be especially wrenching to watch the unfolding marital strife because one imagines that 45 years into a marriage, seven decades into one’s life, mystery will be long gone. This is a time for reflection, companionship, and dying, not drama. If one has to start all over, where will they be starting from?
Indeed, as 45 YEARS draws to a close, it feels, to use a somewhat tired phrase, like watching a car crash in slow motion, unable to look away. Through clever foreshadowing and excellent performance we know exactly what will happen at the end, and when it does it is moving, frightening, thrilling. This predictability works against the film as well, to a degree. A dash of surprise might have been needed to put 45 YEARS over the top into being one of the year’s best films. The truly great movies make the viewer feel as if they are in the car crash, not just watching it. But Rampling, Courtenay, and Haigh’s sure-handed direction make sure that the viewer will be glued to the screen, because the victims of this collision are people you have grown to know and love.