45 Years

Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years is a keenly observed study of a marriage that descends into crisis. On the eve of their 45th wedding anniversary, Geoff and Kate are seen happily going about their week like any other: walking the dog along the Norfolk flats; reading the papers over breakfast in the morning; pottering around the garage, cluttered with markers of middle-class, provincial life. When news arrives that the body of Geoff’s former German lover Katya has been discovered in the Alps, perfectly preserved in the ice, their blissfully unremarkable existence becomes pockmarked with uncertainty and suspicion.

Loosely based on David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country”, Haigh’s nuanced study explores the paper-thin line between the known and the unknown and the ways one can bleed into the other. As Geoff becomes subtly, but indisputably, more distant – he takes up smoking again, he roots around in the attic for old mementoes of Katya – the couple’s previously familiar rituals that bound them together become fraught with a troubling malaise, that threatens to turn into meaninglessness. “On one hand, the premise of finding Katya in the ice seems absurd and illogical. At the same time, it’s also believable. It feels weird in the way real life feels weird,” said Haigh.

45 Years is a film about cracks, both real and figurative: Katya died by falling through a crevice in the Alps, while that very event is what causes the potentially irreparable fissure in Geoff and Kate’s marriage. As with Haigh’s choice of camera angles and blocking – where we often witness the couple moving through doorways and corridors – it suggests human understanding is at best, partial, at worst, a fiction.

Departing from the short story upon which it is based, 45 Years is shot from the perspective of Kate, played by Charlotte Rampling, who expertly conveys the complex emotions at play, expressing both a cool stoicism and raw panic in the shape of an eyebrow, the restrained flicker of an eye. Is she a kind of ersatz replacement to Geoff’s Katya, she wonders? Have Geoff’s proclamations of love to her been aimed at the ghost of Katya all this time? As Haigh put it: “The film is so much about what’s unknowable about a person. It’s about what you should and shouldn’t know about the person you’re with, being close and then being pushed away. And Charlotte can just express all of this in her face. She has an incredible sense of both giving you things and keeping things hidden.”

As the film moves episodically over the course of a single week, their wedding anniversary no longer represents the zenith of their love, but a menacing cliff edge off which they might be about to fall. Or might it take the shape of a corridor of change, forcing them to a new understanding of each other and of their lifelong pledge? In a climactic scene that refuses the temptation of resolution for the realism of ambivalence – recalling the iconic endings of The Long Good Friday or The Graduate45 Years transforms from a film about what has been, to that dreadful, inevitable reality of what happens now. 

 

 

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