Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
45 Years is currently running in Tampa; it will open at Enzian Theater in Maitland Feb. 26.
What makes a marriage last? There are thousands of answers, meaning there are none.
After all this time, a 70-year-old wife still has doubts about her husband’s old flames, their past decisions, and her own self-esteem. It shakes her to her core the same week she plans for a big party. 45 Years is a devastatingly intimate portrayal of a long-term marriage in crisis.
Rampling definitely deserves her Oscar nomination. Most of the work in this poetic, silent film lies between the lines; Rampling knows how to fill them with wit, pain, anger, and trepidation.
This stoic English couple should have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary, but Jeff (Courtenay) had bypass surgery. So, Jeff and Kate amicably plan for a 45th. They’re a quiet, stable couple; they believe they know each other inside and out after four and a half decades together.
However, on the Monday before the Saturday party, Jeff gets a letter. The body of his first love has been discovered, after a tragic accident locked her in ice in the Swiss Alps 50 years before. As climate change thaws this secret, new discoveries come to light that make Kate mistrust her and Jeff’s many years together.
To say this is a small film would be an understatement. In many ways, it reminded me of tight, emotional stage dramas. That’s not a bad thing, and director Andrew Haigh uses this opportunity to do something that movies can do well – get close up and focus on the face, the emotions ravaging a character.
Haigh has shown this quality before, in the excellent gay film Weekend. Both that film and this are chamber pieces, concentrating on personalities as wants and doubts complicate their lives.
Jeff and Kate never had children. Kate, though, was a schoolteacher who saw a lot of others’ children grow up. Jeff and Kate’s house is barren of pictures.
“What would we put up: pictures of ourselves?” Kate asks with a laugh that covers up a myriad of past decisions and confusion.
Haigh – who also wrote this and Weekend – also has a gift for showing what relationships are really like. In Weekend, we follow two men on what should’ve been a one-night stand, questioning whether they’ll develop into a long-term relationship. In 45 Years, we see a straight marriage that should be beyond reproach getting shaken to the foundation.
This is Rampling’s picture, for sure. Despite her mistimed and politically incorrect responses to this year’s Oscar scandal about lack of diversity, she deserves to be here. However, it would’ve been just as easy to see Courtenay get a supporting actor nod as Jeff. Together, they hold the picture together as their marriage may be falling apart.
45 Years isn’t an easy watch, but it asks vital questions. It further shows Haigh’s strengths. As marriage equality becomes common, it’s refreshing to have a gay man leading such dynamic and intimate explorations into the human heart.