45 Years (Sundance Selects, R)

Between Weekend and 45 Years, it seems to say we have a major filmmaker on our hands in the form of 42-year-old Haigh.

45years

After my initial viewing of writer/director Andrew Haigh’s breakthrough feature, 2011’s Weekend, I was left wondering where he’d come from. How did it take me so long to hear about and eventually see that movie? How come I hadn’t heard of this Haigh character before? Etc. And after seeing Haigh’s new feature film, 45 Years, I thought the same type of thing: Is this guy human? Where did he come from? How come people aren’t making a bigger deal about him?

In fairness, people are making a big deal about him—reviews of 45 Years are near-universally positive, and star Charlotte Rampling just pulled a semi-unexpected, though totally deserved, Oscar nomination for her performance in it—but perhaps just not a big enough deal. Between Weekend and 45 Years, it seems to say we have a major filmmaker on our hands in the form of 42-year old Haigh.

The title of 45 Years is culled from how long our lead couple, Kate and Geoff Mercer (Rampling and Tom Courtenay, respectively), have been married—the film begins as their 45th anniversary celebration is imminent. The conflict in the movie comes from Geoff’s receiving the news that the body of a long-missing ex-girlfriend, from his pre-Kate days, has turned up after all those years, and he was named the next of kin. Understandably, this leads his interest in said ex-girlfriend, Katya, to spike, and lots of obsessing and reminiscing on his part ensues, which is both perfectly understandable but also annoying and at least a little troublesome from Kate’s point of view, especially so with their pending party celebrating a lifetime’s worth of love on the horizon.

While 45 Years is compellingly plotted (Haigh is here adapting a short story by writer David Constantine), a large part of the film rides on the shoulders of Rampling and Courtenay, and they’re happily up to the task. Ms. Rampling is one of those actresses, most of whom are French, it seems, who only gets better with age (as an actress, at least; recent boneheaded comments about the #oscarssowhite controversy notwithstanding), and it’s good to see her get a role that she can sink her teeth into. Courtenay is a good match for Rampling’s talent, which is saying something on its own, and he does a lot with the role of Geoff.

The movie 45 Years most calls to mind for me is Sarah Polley’s 2006 film Away from Her, which was another case of a young writer/director (again adapting a short story, even) depicting strife in a decades-long marriage. What 45 Years doesn’t as much call to mind is Haigh’s Weekend, though both Weekend and 45 Years are excellent films, so the disparity in tone and plot between the two can be observed as yet another reason to marvel at Haigh—it isn’t just that he can do one thing well, but he can do a lot of things well. | Pete Timmermann

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