Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years.
"To call the film haunting is an understatement." | Photo: Agatha A. Nitecka © 45 Years Film Ltd

A long dormant seed of dissent takes root and blossoms in 45 Years, a powerful drama from Andrew Haigh. It raises the question: how quickly can a constant in your life be dissolved into an uncertainty? Is the entropy of hidden trauma escapable, or will it always catch up? Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are eminently believable as they wrestle silently with these dilemmas in a way that brings to mind the tight-lipped and overwhelmingly low key ferocity of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier.

Events start with somewhat cosmic absurdity, as Geoff Mercer (Tom) receives a letter five days before his 45th wedding anniversary, explaining that his old flame Katya - long dead - has been found preserved in a glacier in Switzerland. Detached and whimsical, he contemplates going to see her as Kate (Charlotte) tortures herself by probing Geoff with questions about his and Katya’s relationship, the circumstances of her death, and what she really meant to him. 45 is an odd year for an anniversary, but the Mercers are catching up due to Geoff receiving bypass surgery five years earlier.

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To call the film haunting is an understatement, as Haigh gives us frank and unflinching access to the lives of two people who find themselves feeling the effects of an event that happened before they even met. The spirit of Katya lingers in Courtenay’s expertly observed portrayal of a man who lives on the edge of reality, a bumbling, wistful figure who means no harm to anyone, but is too wrapped up in himself to really feel the influence of his actions. Charlotte Rampling is utterly absorbing as a woman who finds herself adrift in a sea of uncertainty, the ripples of a freak accident finally lapping onto the shore of the present.

What makes this drama so compelling, so crushing, is the inexorable march towards what feels like a climactic denouement. As Kate digs further, she finds long buried memories calling from the transparent glacial ice. Cold and remorseless, they force their way into the house and her life, as indefatigable as the march of nature. The cinematography frequently isolates Kate just below long razor-edged horizons which suggest to the viewer the unbreakable line traced between Geoff and Katya’s past and her present.

It’s breathtaking, abrasive drama that relies on subtle infractions to deliver a gut punch of emotion. There’s nothing vulgar here. Instead the lens through which Kate is required to reconsider her entire life is a series of small, cumulative transgressions not against her, but her perception of life. The final moments of the film recall an offhand suggestion made in the first few minutes, but stretch beyond that to what must have once been the happiest day of her life. Words take on new meaning, as a clarion call for a life not lived is echoed in a final expression, which may be one of the most authentic moments of lucidity ever captured on screen.

Reviewed on: 26 Jun 2015
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45 Years packshot
A marriage is thrown into turmoil with news of a long dead lover.
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Director: Andrew Haigh

Writer: Andrew Haigh, based on the short story by David Constantine.

Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley, Sam Alexander, Richard Cunningham, Hannah Chalmers, Max Rudd, Martin Atkinson, Kevin Matadeen, Camille Ucan, Lucy Temple, Paul Goldsmith, Rachel Banham

Year: 2015

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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