Tuesday, January 26, 2016

OVP: 45 Years (2015)

Film: 45 Years (2015)
Stars: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Director: Andrew Haigh
Oscar History: 1 nomination (Best Actress-Charlotte Rampling)
Snap Judgment Ranking: 5/5 stars

When I first saw Andrew Haigh's Weekend a few years ago, I left the film kind of slack-jawed.  The way that he managed to make a romance feel so vibrant and so intimate onscreen, with little more than two hours to establish the characters felt like a wonder.  Frequently in movie romances we have to rely in some part on the public persona of the stars to fill in the gaps, or at least make the characters so blank you can fill in the holes, but Haigh overcame these obstacles with very specific human beings falling in love, and we're left breathlessly wondering what will happen as each scene follows the other.  In his cinematic follow-up (he took a wonderful detour into television with the under-appreciated Looking in between these pictures), he manages to find a similar triumph with two very different individuals.  Whereas Weekend was about discovering individuals alongside each other, here we are given two people who have spent a lifetime together, watching their world spin as they discover a long-buried secret one of them has held for so many decades.

(Spoilers Ahead) The film's power lies in that secret, and the way that we live most of our lives without trying to think too hard about the people we love and their motives for loving us.  The film follows Geoff (Courtenay) and Kate (Rampling) as they throw a 45th wedding anniversary party, an abrupt change from their relatively calm and lovely existence in the English countryside.  Geoff receives a letter stating that a woman from his past, from before he met Kate, had been discovered after decades of being missing in the ice of a mountain glacier.  Geoff starts to expound on the relationship in a way that he hadn't before, and Kate at first listens, and then starts to second guess some of the choices throughout their marriage and becomes bitterly jealous of Geoff's affections for this woman and the ghost that she has brought forth after all of these decades.

The film is not deeply melodramatic, and rarely goes into what you'd expect from such a film (there are no August Osage County-style diatribes and the film never carries into histrionics), but its power lies in the silences and glances between the two.  We see a couple that, after decades of being together, has grown so comfortable with each other that direct communication has been supplanted by a series of routines.  Their intimacies aren't necessarily phoned-in, but they happen without thinking, and when Kate starts to wonder about their lives together, it dawns on her how much of her life has been guided by a woman she's never met.

This makes the final third of the film one of the best things I saw last year onscreen.  I stood in shock-and-awe when I saw the slide projector in Kate's attic, as she looked through photos of Geoff's lover Katya, whom he had recently admitted he would have married had she not died, and the initial gut punch of realizing she looked incredibly similar to Charlotte Rampling at that age, and the even more daring position of finding out she was pregnant when she died.  At this point we see the hurt and betrayal in Kate's face, as suddenly she realizes why Geoff initially picked her and why they never had children, because he wanted a reminder of Katya but either out of loyalty to his ex-lover or out of avoiding hurt he could never bring himself to have another child.  The anniversary party dance comes across almost like a climax to a horror film it's so rife with baited breath, as we wonder whether Kate will forgive due to too many years invested in this man or whether she'll spend the rest of her life regretting the husband she married.  The film is too smart to give us that answer, but in the final shot of Rampling's face, her hand clutched away from her husband, you think it may be a combination of the two.

The script and direction is tight, and Andrew Haigh deserves a medal for making a film that somehow manages to equal his marvelous Weekend, but he's aided by two excellent pieces of work from his accomplished leads.  Tom Courtenay's Geoff is a man who isn't quite attuned to his wife, and clearly never has been, and I love the way that he never portrays him as playing a game, but simply as out-there, thinking he has gotten away with Kate not knowing some of his motives all of these years.  Charlotte Rampling's Kate, on the other hand, is a revelation.  It feels odd to praise the actress after she encountered such ire for ill-chosen comments about the Oscar Boycott controversy, but her performance here is dazzling, a triumph after a career of playing subtle women onscreen.  It may make for some awkward reaction shots on Oscar night (I partially wonder if she even goes at this point), but Rampling more than earned her Academy Award nomination this past year.

Those are my thoughts on the complicated and excellent 45 Years-how about yours?  Do you think Rampling (regardless of politics) deserved her Oscar nomination?  Are you as hopeful as myself over what Andrew Haigh will do next?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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