Saturday, February 6, 2016

45 Years: Things Fall Apart

Every year, there is a movie about an older couple that reminds you that life never gets simple as you age. Instead, love and marriage are as complex to navigate in your sixties as in your twenties. 45 Years is a movie that revels in demonstrating exactly how complex things can get.

Charlotte Rampling stars as Kate Mercer, an Englishwoman who has been happily married to her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), for 45 years. She is planning the party for their 45th wedding anniversary, when Geoff receives a letter with some surprising news. And that news proceeds to unravel the entire foundation of their marriage, as Kate realizes that even after 45 years, her husband had hidden many secrets from her that have affected their marriage in various ways.

Based on the short story, In Another Country, by David Constantine, and written and directed by Andrew Haigh, this movie is extraordinarily subtle. Rampling and Courtenay are wonderful actors, and at first, Kate and Geoff seem like an ordinary, loving couple, who can't possibly be that interesting. They have mundane conversations, have uninteresting friends, and are exceedingly normal. The contents of the letter and its actual ramifications are unveiled agonisingly slowly (so slowly in fact that I grew quite impatient until the movie made a final revelation that packed quite a wallop). And it is then that you realize that while people might be extremely average on the surface, underneath they carry heavy burdens that color their every action and influence their lives for decades.

The movie contains great swathes of silence and is wholly concerned with its characters and their reactions. Courtenay is great as a befuddled old man who hid something from his wife and now needs to own up to his mistakes. But Rampling is the focus of the piece, always striving to speak calmly and reasonably while her face tells a very different story about the jealousy and betrayal she is having to face on the eve of her anniversary. Whether it's the scene where she stormily plays the piano to release her inner turmoil, or the moment when her face is lit up in periodic flashes from a slide projector and slowly transforms to horror, she is sublime to watch.

45 Years seems like a predictable movie, but it never stops subverting your expectations. While its setting is very insular, its vision is universal, trying to examine how long-married couples still experience revelations that can surprise and upset the balance of their lives. While 45 years is a long and comfortable time, things can happen to disturb even the most solid foundations. This is an intriguing and deeply unsettling movie that provides plenty of food for thought.

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