I sometimes wonder if it’s simply a sign of my age or if there’s a bit of sophistication that I’ve developed after having watched so many films. Whatever the cause, it’s true: I really enjoy the quiet human dramas of relationships between family members, friends, spouses or lovers. This is especially true if the story is brought forth by accomplished actors who know their craft and who can do as much – more perhaps – with a wink or a whisper as a yell or a baseball bat.
45 Years is just such a film. It opens in Edmonton this weekend but if you’re not paying attention, it will probably get lost among the Star Wars reboot, the big budget Disney adventures, and the improbable cartoons with talking animals who are masters of martial arts. Pay no attention to those fantasies. I’d like to introduce you to Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay).
The Mercers are entirely in love, a longstanding fixture in the community and fairly well regarded by all. The movie seems to take no time at all to bring us to the inciting incident, where Geoff receives a note in the post. The letter should bring closure to a big part of his past but instead it opens up fresh wounds between him and his wife.
We learn that the body of his former girlfriend has just been discovered in the Swiss Alps. Upon learning the news, he becomes distracted by the thought of her, his behaviour changes, and Kate notices everything. On the verge of their 45th anniversary, it seems like the marriage has hit a major snag.
Rampling and Courtenay are impossibly perfect in these roles, both understated and warm, utterly composed yet undeniably fragile. We still get to spend the film watching them interact with each other in tenderness and constant communication. It’s fascinating for its look into all of the facets of a couple relating to each other in the good times and especially through trying circumstances and tough times.
In many ways, it’s beautiful to witness a fiction that confers a message that marriages can be long, stable and fulfilling. Even when the inevitable surprises arrive to shake the foundation of the relationship, we hold firm to the belief that the Mercers can and will survive any tragedy. This is all due to the strength of the performances. Rampling has already taken to the podium to accept awards for this work and her Oscar nomination might easily see her go back up the stairs again.
Just like the letter in the mail, 45 Years is a huge surprise that comes right out of nowhere. This delightful character piece shouldn’t be disregarded as even little things can have huge repercussions. Even after such a long union, the Mercers find out that a marriage based on honesty and trust can rattle like an earthquake when one party doesn’t offer full disclosure of personal details from the very beginning.
Starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay
Written and directed by Andrew Haigh
Rating: 14A for sexual content and coarse language
Runtime: 94 minutes