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45 Years

A pair of superb performances ground this intimate relationship drama.
By Sarah Ward
February 20, 2016
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By Sarah Ward
February 20, 2016
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When Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) starts to interrogate the lifetime she has spent with her husband Geoff (Tom Courtenay), she's not just dissecting her own relationship. She's also pondering one of humanity's great concerns. The pair argue about times gone by as they plan the party for their 45th wedding anniversary, and while the details prove specific to their situation, the broader questions they raise are universal. 45 Years echoes the thought everyone has had at least once: how well can we ever really know those closest to us?

The Mercers' predicament arises, as these worries often do, after a blast from the past interrupts their present. When Geoff receives word that the body of his former girlfriend has been found, frozen in ice for half a century, his devastated reaction causes Kate to re-assess their romance. The duo should be commemorating their lengthy union, but instead they're drifting apart. In their countryside home, he's sorting through old photos and wallowing in memories, and she's looking at everything they've ever shared with fresh eyes.

45 Years tells of roads not taken, of buried doubts unearthed, and of the consequences of choices. But more than that, it tells of two people trying to understand their connection with each other. It might seem like a simple topic, as well as an oft-seen one; however Andrew Haigh's effort, adapted from the short story In Another Country by David Constantine, never comes across as just another relationship drama. Indeed, while bickering wives and husbands are hardly uncommon in film, marital issues take on a different tone and texture when they stem from such an extensive bond. With that in mind, 45 Years understands the closeness and complexity that can only come with time, as well as the heightened devastation unexpected revelations can cause.

It's another insightful, empathetic offering from writer/director Haigh — and given that he previously delved into the first flourishes of love in Weekend, the poise and perceptiveness he demonstrates at the opposite end of the temporal scale can't be underestimated. Ever the intimate filmmaker, he once again strands his protagonists largely in a single setting, often letting scenes play out with minimal edits. He knows that his audience can see what will happen next; his films find their power and poignancy not in surprises, but in waiting for the expected emotions to unfurl.

As a performers' showcase, 45 Years excels, with its central portrayals perfecting the requisite balance of affection and uncertainty. While Rampling proves the more animated of the pair, both convey the film's underlying contemplation of the true nature of personal connections. Together, they're the image of the couple everyone does and doesn't want to be. A long-term on-screen duo has rarely felt as real as this.

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