Soon-to-be 70-year-old actress Charlotte Rampling has been around for six decades, and in the touching drama 45 Years (opening today), she finally has a role she can sink her teeth into. Of course, she’s had a lot to chew on lately with that foot in her mouth, following some controversial statements she made in regards to the lack of diversity at this year’s Academy Awards. The Academy of course, should be under fire for a second straight year of having no persons of color nominated for any of the major awards. But despite her recent comments, the Academy got one thing right in nominating Rampling for Best Actress. She definitely deserves accolades for her deeply powerful, subtle performance in 45 Years.
The film is a rare one these days: An organic drama about an elderly couple, dealing with things few movies do with people who are up in age. Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate Mercer (Rampling) are an English couple on the brink of their 45th wedding anniversary, with plans to celebrate the milestone with a gathering of close friends and family. Not too many couples celebrate their 45th anniversary, but we learn that Geoff had some medical trouble around the time of their 40th, and to wait until their 50th? Well you know, the clock is ticking. On a seemingly normal day in their lives, Geoff finds out from a news report that the body of his former lover – from some 50 years ago – was finally discovered. This woman fell tragically to her death, and while the memories of her had seemed buried, the finality of the news rekindles something within Geoff, affecting him deeply. Needless to say, Kate is affected as well.
From there, Kate and Geoff deal with this news, and try to figure out what it means to them. The result is a profound character study, a movie that takes its time, despite the somewhat short 95-minute running time. Many scenes play out in one long take, enough to sometimes make you wonder why this wasn’t a stage production. The answer is that the heart, the emotion, the center of the film takes place on Charlotte Rampling’s face…the intimate close-ups and nuances of which would be hard to find in a theater. For that, film was the perfect choice to tell the story of 45 Years.
True, on the surface, not much “happens” in this movie. But for a couple that has been married for that long, it feels accurate. Much happens beneath the surface though, as Kate digs a little deeper than she probably intended, and uncovers some truths that once let out of the box, cannot be returned there. Both performances – by Rampling and Courtenay – are remarkable, and despite the somber pace, they both keep the movie alive and breathing with their interaction.
The body that was discovered was frozen solid, like many of our memories, stuck in time. It may be cliche that a movie about an aging couple deals with themes of time running out, but here it is done remarkably well. With the whole film taking place only over a couple of days leading up to their anniversary gala, we still are made to feel the long history between man and woman, the complexities that go into any relationship, and the struggles inherent in spending one’s lifetime with another. Not everything is perfect, and boy can your perspective change. Even after all of these years, both Kate and Geoff have miles of undiscovered territory left to unearth within one another.
By the time Geoff stands up to give a speech at his anniversary party, the words that he says, that you might come to expect at such an event, take on a much deeper meaning now that we see what this couple has gone through, and what they still have ahead of them. He talks about the importance of the choices you make, especially about the choices you make when you are young, not realizing that there are decisions being made still that have tremendous consequences and rewards attached to them. Happiness, the film seems to say, is a matter of perspective and perseverance. The final sequence – where the two share a dance to their wedding song, “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” by The Platters – the things going on with Rampling are enough to win her an Oscar right there. Here is a song about love being blind, about love being lost, and the unclear, cloudy affect love has on one’s soul. She has a choice right then and there – an incredibly important choice that will have lasting affects on her life – to forgive and accept. Her face captures it all. Listen to the words of the song in context of the film, and it is enough to tear you apart.
45 Years has a lot to say, yet the power of its message is delivered by Rampling, who delivers it without using many words at all.
Genre: Drama, Romance
Run Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James
Based on the short story by David Constantine
Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh (Weekend, Greek Pete)
Opens locally on Friday, Jan 29, 2016 (check for show times).