Scenes from a Marriage45 Years

Tom Courtenay (Geoff) and Charlotte Rampling (Kate) in Andrew Haigh’s 45 YEARS. Courtesy of Agatha A. Nitecka. © 45 Years Films Ltd. A Sundance Selects Release

45 Years
Directed by Andrew Haigh
Opens December 23

Countless films have sought to address the tragedy of a couple’s demise; it might even be cinema’s most tested narrative. Few filmmakers have rendered it as intimately as writer-director Andrew Haigh does in 45 Years, a quietly devastating film about heartbreak and loss.

As in Weekend, Haigh’s exceptional prior film that follows the fated timeline of a nascent queer relationship, there is a temporal immediacy to 45 Years that hastens the story. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are approaching their 45th wedding anniversary, to be celebrated by an upcoming gathering of family and friends. Interrupting the planning of this joyous occasion is a note Geoff receives notifying him that the remains of a deceased girlfriend from his youth, predating Kate, have been found. It seems that the woman to whom Geoff refers as “my Katja” has long been a knowable but dormant truth in the couple’s relationship. In the remaining few days between this inopportune news and a long-planned event, the cracks begin to show.

Dialogue between Kate and Geoff is sparse, as it must be when people reach such a gracious stage of comfort between one another. But communication between the two is constant, formally manifested by Haigh through a series of long, controlled zooms that rest most often upon Kate’s wearied, newly burdened countenance. The rhythm of this structure cleverly engages the viewer, as the closing of each sequence contains a jarring finality. As the couple comes to grips with the reality of this discovery, a lifetime of memories and choices are reconsidered.

45 Years builds towards a climax in which the viewer is forced to question the weight of apology and an acquiescence to regret. In a career of eclectic roles as the muse to some of film’s great artists, Charlotte Rampling delivers a performance that will, quite probably, leave you speechless. It’s one thing to be restrained, and quite another to convey meaning through quietude. Here Rampling, and Courtenay as the similarly contemplative husband, affect through an easy rapport that will be instantly familiar to almost anyone with parents or grandparents. Haigh crafts a resoundingly personal film that will inspire debate, and hopefully cement his status as one of our most exciting young writer/directors.

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