45 Years loves its silence. This is a patient, slow burn drama about the power that secrets have over a very long marriage. Featuring immaculate performances from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, writer/director Andrew Haigh steeps his film in small details, both written and visual, with results that are nothing short of quietly riveting. A true two-hander and really hard to “explain,” this is a film that requires your strict attention, not unlike something like Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami, and is less about “big moments” than it is about the cumulative sum of many intimate sequences that highlight all of the many qualities, happy and sad, that form married life. The story centers on a retired couple living in the British countryside, who are blindsided by the news that the husband’s long-ago lover, from before their marriage has died, and has apparently left the man as her next of kin. Why would she do that? What could the husband not be letting on to his wife after all of these years? What will this life development do to them as they prepare to celebrate 45 years of joyous unity? Haigh prefers low key dramatics as opposed to over the top histrionics, so as a result, everything in this film feels very measured and carefully parsed out; not a word is wasted and not a glance is out of place.
45 Years asks hard questions and doesn’t provide easy answers, and because Haigh is too smart to try and wrap up his tender and provocative narrative with a tidy bow, some people might feel cheated by the final scene, despite the fact that Rampling essentially puts on an acting clinic with only using that amazingly expressive face of hers; it’s a moment like the one in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth where you see Nicole Kidman in long shot with a major realization hitting her like a ton of bricks. Rampling, who looks stunning at 70 years of age, crafts a tremendous portrait of a woman slowly realizing that she might not know some of the more important sides to her husband, while Courtenay suggests frailty, both physical and mental, which adds to the sympathy you feel towards him as his character is put through something he could never have anticipated or asked for. The invisible editing by Jonathan Alberts was in perfect synch with the carefully chosen visual presentation favored by the sharp cinematographer Lol Crawley. 45 Years is a very internal piece of storytelling, never telling you once how to feel, and always asking you to engage with it on multiple levels so as to better understand the various thematic complexities on display and up for discussion. This is a fabulous piece of work for people who want to actively engage with their art.
Review By Nick Clement