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45 Years - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
45 Years
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Unless you're as old as the characters themselves -- like, in your seventies -- you might think 45 Years sounds rather dull. It certainly sounds long. Thankfully, this look at a married couple about to celebrate their 45th anniversary is all of 95 minutes long, and is surprisingly watchable.

It may also be tempting, however, to lament that such a simple and lovely film could be tainted by politics and controversy. The sole Oscar nomination it received was for Best Actress, for Charlotte Rampling, who is indeed wonderful as Kate Mercer, the woman reeling from the sudden discovery that her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), has never gotten over the previous girlfriend who died in a horrible hiking accident while they were in their twenties. Rampling is also, apparently, a stunningly ignorant woman, reportedly having declared the controversy regarding the lack of diversity among Oscar nominees "racist against whites."

Is that relevant to the merits of the film, though? Usually I would say absolutely not. Just as with films based on books, I have long said films should be judged on their own merits. But if you go into a movie like this with this kind of knowledge about one of the performers, it's difficult not to think about it, say, when the characters casually refer to a woman in their town as "that racist girl." Pot, meet kettle! Well, except here the pot is playing someone else who is not the pot. Regardless, a line like that, spoken to a seasoned actress like this, is difficult not to notice in a new context that the film's producers could never have predicted.

Setting such distractions aside, 45 Years does stand on its own, even when not much is happening. There's a unique quality to this couple's relationship, brought on by the discovery that the girlfriend from decades past has been discovered stuck in the ice of those mountains. Kate knows about her, but only in the vaguest sense. We gather that Geoff told Kate about her in the very beginning, but then they never discussed her again.

The story here follows these two over the course of one week, which begins with the letter bearing that news drudging up the past. But they are also preparing for a big party for their 45th wedding anniversary. A celebration for their 40th had been preempted by a medical issue with Geoff. You get the feeling it was easier for them both to weather a badly timed and worrisome surgery than a badly timed revelation about a former flame.

Everything about 45 Years is subtle, a credit to writer-director Andrew Haigh (who also directed the wonderful 2011 film Weekend, as well as several episodes of the HBO series Looking), adapting from a short story by David Constantine. In many ways short stories are more suited for film adaptation than novels, as so much of novels inevitably has to be left out. There is no sense that any of the story is missing here, and the pacing is slow yet engaging. It suits Kate's slow realization that, in the end, she was second best, a consolation prize.

Kate does some snooping around in the attic, where she evidently never really spends any time. She finds scrap books and a slide projector. She doesn't find a large amount of information, but she does discover some detail that deepens the heartbreak. Kate and Geoff clearly love each other and have loved each other for 45 years, but Kate is discovering a nature to that love, which she had no idea existed. It's rare that we get such rich stories and performances about and by people of this age, but this type of story is perfectly suited for it. Even if this couple had been together twenty years, this kind of revelation would not have the same depth of impact.

It may not even be fair to call it a secret. They both knew about that other girl, after all; they just never talked about it. Geoff seems to have largely repressed his feelings for her through all this time, and it just comes flooding back with the arrival of the letter. There is no hero or villain in this story. It's easy to feel for both characters, who are played with deep empathy by both actors. It's an empathy, of course, that comes from a relatively narrow path of experience. As such, even with the Oscar attention, 45 Years is one of those films that enjoys widespread acclaim but has no potential for widespread exposure. It's too bad.

Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling find their replationship unraveling after 45 YEARS.

Overall: B+
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