45 Years ***1/2

Charlotte Rampling is an Oscar nominee for her phenomenal performance here — it’s not to be missed!

Is it worth $10? Yes

The secrets of a marriage can be a dark, dangerous thing, and in “45 Years” the emotions they conjure mean everything.

In Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate’s (Charlotte Rampling) marriage, things were fine for 44 years, 11 months and about three weeks. That’s a pretty good run. But with their 45th anniversary party mere days away, a bombshell is dropped that rocks Geoff and Kate’s foundation: The body of Geoff’s lover before he met Kate is found in the Swiss Alps. To this point he only knew she disappeared; the discovery of the body sets off a swarm of emotions and discoveries for Geoff and Kate that brings the purity of their love into doubt. Ironically, this all happens as Kate plans the anniversary party, which is supposed to be the ultimate celebration of their love.

Ostensibly, finding the body shouldn’t be that big a deal outside of a few painful memories for Geoff. It all happened before he met Kate, after all. But these emotions run deep, and because Geoff and Kate rarely talk about emotions, don’t have many pictures of themselves and never had kids, surprises and jealousy emerge. And no, there isn’t any grandiose twist that finds Geoff as a murderer or anything of the sort. Director Andrew Haigh’s story is too brutal and honest and realistic for that. The narrative plays out in plain, pensive ways, and because the performances are so good the movie is superb.

Rampling deserves her Best Actress Oscar nomination – note how she emotes with her body and face, not just her words. Every time Kate asks questions she doesn’t really want the answer to, and then receives the answer she didn’t want to hear, you can see the hurt in her eyes. Rampling’s performance is of a woman who after 45 years of commitment to one man learns that she’s not the love of his life. It’s heartbreaking.

Courtenay is more subtly effective as a man trapped in the thought of what his life could’ve been if it proceeded as he envisioned 50 years earlier. Geoff doesn’t get emotional about his lost love, but he does act strange after he learns the body was discovered: He’s smoking again, not engaging with others, and even thinks about travelling to Switzerland without Kate. Courtenay plays Geoff as relatively oblivious to the effect his actions have on his wife, which makes your heart ache even more for her.

Haigh, who adapted the screenplay from David Constantine’s short story “In Another Country,” provides a naturalistic feel that’s echoed by the quiet serenity of the English countryside in which Geoff and Kate reside. His camera is observational, not intrusive; most of the time Geoff and Kate are framed together on screen, or one is just off screen and talking to the other. By allowing the viewer to be a voyeur as the relationship dissipates, and not using excessive close-ups or other visual tricks to accentuate the hardship, Haigh deeply immerses us in the story because it feels like we’re a fly-on-the-wall watching it all happen. It’s the right approach to take.

A spoiler-free word on the ending, which comes after a dance at the anniversary party. It’s an unbroken three-minute final shot, and listen to the lyrics of the song as you watch Rampling’s face. This is acting at its absolute finest, and under Haigh’s steady direction “45 Years” is filmmaking at its absolute finest.

Did you know?
Both Courtenay and Rampling won lead actor awards for the film at the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival.

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