It’s a pleasure when a small, quiet, independent film starring – gasp – two older actors comes along and makes a splash during frenetic, big-studio, tentpole season, but “45 Years” does exactly that. It’s been winning acclaim and awards for stars Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay ever since it made the rounds of festivals early last year (it’s 2016 today – Happy New Year).
Directed by Brit Andrew Haigh, the film is a searingly honest, understatedly devastating character study of a 45-year marriage that seems to be going strong – so strong that Kate (Rampling) and Geoff (Courtenay) are in the countdown week to their big anniversary party. A retired schoolteacher, Kate is busy preparing for the party, while Geoff, a former factory worker, lets her do most of the busy work. Theirs is a life of routine and contentment – until a letter arrives in the mail announcing that the body of Geoff’s old love, Katya, who died while they were on a climbing adventure in the 60s and fell down a fissure in a glacier, has been found after all these years. Geoff becomes engulfed in memories of their romance, and Kate notices it – and resents it. We learn that they’re not a couple that has told each other their innermost thoughts, so each little tidbit of information that’s revealed causes fissures in their marriage. Will their anniversary party go on as planned? Will their marriage go on as it was? Will it survive? The film’s last scene – last gesture – is one that will haunt me for a long time.
I know I’ve said this before about other actresses, including Brie Larson in “Room,” but if Charlotte Rampling in the role of her career doesn’t get and possibly win an Oscar, I’ll be shocked. “45 Years” isn’t for everybody. Michael found it slow – not much “happens” in terms of action – but he was as blown away by the story and the performances as I was. Not to be missed. Truly.