By Marcianne Miller
Drama: Before their 45th wedding anniversary, a woman learns her husband’s love for her is not what she assumed.
Special Note: Extraordinary, heartbreaking performances.
Players: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay.
Director/writer: Andrew Haigh, based on short story by David Constantine.
Rated R for language and brief sexuality.
Fine Arts and Carolina Cinemas. Check theatre listings.
A secret is like an insidious germ trapped in a lamp and when it is rubbed, the truth erupts with such force that it can infect and kill whatever had tried to hold it in. In an amazingly elegant, heartbreaking film, English director/writer Andrew Haigh examines what happens to an elderly couple when an old secret comes to haunt them.
45 Years is set in the rural area of Norfolk on the north eastern coast of England. The palette of the movie is like a cloudy winter day, hazy neutrals, foggy greys and blues. Nothing is bright, no summery gayness, no spring blossom pink.
Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) and her husband Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) live in complacent domesticity in a pleasant house, decorated in those cloudy day colors. No children or grandchildren mar the repose of the house. Nor do any photographs cover the walls.
Kate is busy planning a big 45th wedding anniversary party at the local clubhouse. It’s Kate’s thing and Geoff doesn’t pay much attention. Then a letter from Switzerland arrives. Geoff learns that the body of a girlfriend, who had tumbled off a cliff to her death on a glacier 50 years ago, has been located. Geoff is so dramatically affected by the news that Kate can’t help but wonder about the relationship Geoff had with the dead woman. Slowly, inevitably, she comes to question if her husband ever really loved her or was she just a substitute for someone who had died too young?
To me, 45 Years is a horror movie. Granted it was quiet and understated but the horror that reveals itself is so inexorable that you find yourself squirming in your seat, hoping you can keep Kate from finding what she is determined to find. No, Kate, don’t go up to the attic, you want to say to her. Don’t read the old letters. Don’t look at the old photos. Don’t ask Geoff any more questions, good Lord, he may tell the truth.
Charlotte Rampling is nominated for an Oscar for her role in this film. Her performance is so subtle, so dignified that you can’t put your finger on any movement she makes or any look on her face, you just feel her emotions as if she is beaming them into you. It is an incredible, uncanny performance and worth all the attention she’s getting for it.
Caution: the film is so realistically painful that you should consider carefully if your own relationship is secure enough to see it. Also, 45 Years is not for action-adventure fans. It’s a movie about mature people facing very heavy issues.
The weather has been so awful that this fine film is not going to stay around for much more than a week. While it is a perfect choice for DVD at-home viewing, it is such a powerful film that you’d do well to see it on the big screen.
Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Assn.) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Assn.) Email her at email@example.com.