Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) is planning a party to celebrate her 45th wedding anniversary. One week before the celebration a letter arrives for her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), containing news that the body of his first love has been discovered, frozen and preserved in the icy glaciers of the Swiss Alps. Kate continues to prepare for the party, but she becomes increasingly concerned by Geoff's preoccupation with the letter and the startling revelations about his former life. As their anniversary gets closer, and they delve further into the past, their future is left in question.
Review by Louise Keller:
Intimate moments that bind and divide are the focus of this intricate exploration of a long-term marriage, complete with perceptions that are both real and imagined. An unexpected letter is the catalyst that brings change to its dynamic. Based on a short story by David Constantine, Andrew Haigh's film digs deep into the fabric of a 45 year old marriage whose even texture starts to unravel, when unspoken issues are suddenly voiced. What begins as an unassuming portrait of a relationship develops into a drama in which the action is internal. As the revelations slowly come to light, the full force of the drama explodes into an emotional fireworks display. It's haunting in a devastating way, throwing open a door in which perceptions and realities exist in different universes. Charlotte Rampling's subtle performance, rich with nuance is sublime. Involving, revealing and highly moving, this is a film to savour.
The opening scene looks like a beautiful, wintry landscape painting with its naked trees, picturesque farmhouse and dog running across the bare field. The sound of birds is the natural musical accompaniment to this tranquil scene in rural Norfolk. Then we meet Kate Mercer (Rampling), walking the Alsatian dog before heading into town to make the final arrangements for her upcoming 45th wedding anniversary celebration. The function room is filled with history - 'like a good marriage', says the organizer. Kate is calm, composed and totally in charge of her life and relationship with Geoff (Tom Courtenay).
We do not have to wait long before the arrival of the pivotal letter that reopens a previously closed chapter of Geoff's life. My Katya; they found my Katya, he says on hearing the news that the body of the woman he knew before Kate had been found in the Swiss Alps - frozen in a glacier. Kate's initial superficial interest develops into curiosity. Hurt, concern and obsession follows. Has Katya been an invisible presence in their marriage for 45 years? The camera lingers on Rampling's vulnerable face in bed, as Geoff begins talking about Katya and the past until Kate can no longer bear to hear any more. In a countdown to the Saturday wedding celebration, the secrets of the past begin to be revealed. But Katya's body is not the only thing that is frozen in time. Precious memories and rare photographs are treasures that act as a reminder of important life choices and happy memories.
Rampling's performance is understatement at its best. With minimal expressions and reactions, she allows us to understand exactly what she is thinking and feeling. Kate is the perfect wife - caring, loving, reassuring even when sexual performance disappoints. Courtenay is also excellent, revealing little except reticence to open up emotionally. With great insight, Haigh concentrates on the minutia of the relationship - regrets, disappointments, purpose and remembering things that bring happiness.
A wonderful collection of musical gems from the 50s and 60s effectively captures the era and the bittersweet ending that features Smoke Gets in Your Eyes has an intense emotional payoff. It's a haunting film with a powerful undercurrent and one in which truth, pride, love and perceptions play key roles.
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45 YEARS (M)
CAST: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, Richard Cunningham, Rufu Wright, Hannah Chalmers, David Sibley
PRODUCER: Tristan Goligher
DIRECTOR: Andrew Haigh
SCRIPT: Andrew Haigh (short story by David Constantine)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Lol Crawley
EDITOR: Jonathan Alberts
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sarah Finlay
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 18, 2016