Sunday, January 31, 2016

45 Years (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

45 Years

"45 Years" is director Andrew Haigh's masterful character study of a marriage, based on a short story by David Constantine. In just ninety minutes Haigh (Weekend), encapsulates the full breadth of two people living together for almost half a century. The director captures more minutia in this short running time than most others do in a full length two hour film.

Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff (Tom Courtenay) are husband and wife about to celebrate a milestone anniversary. They have a comfortable but not extravagant home in Norfolk. Kate is a former teacher and there are hints that Geoff was once an aspiring explorer.

Things seem to be going along splendidly.

One day, a letter arrives in German. Geoff is shocked to the core. It appears that Katya, (Geoff's ex girlfriend) who slipped and fell to her death on ice when she was climbing in the Alps), has appeared within a glacier as a frozen corpse, preserved by the freeze.

As the event happened 45 years ago, Geoff can't remember if he told Kate the story or not. Geoff is stupified while Kate is surprised and confused, having no idea of the past affection or perhaps, the romance.

The next day, Kate moves ahead with their anniversary preparations, but is vexed. Geoff is distracted and spaced out. He goes for walks without telling her. To Kate's dismay, Geoff starts smoking again as he did when a young man. Rather than talk of the upcoming party, his talk is of his   time as a young activist.

Kate busies herself with day to day chores: going out for chats, walking the dog and making phone calls.  Kate soon discovers that she can't sleep; she finds Geoff rummaging in the attic for old photos.

This is by no means a bad-marriage film. It is simply an analysis of what can happen when secrets or even forgotten information, grow gray roots of doubt. Rampling is a study in tension, transforming into a coil of steel. Her brows pull down under the weight of worry and pined for anniversary bliss.

The excellence of the film is in the spare detail. With every suggestion of Katya, Kate carries on, stubbornly insistent on every daily activity no matter how slight.

Though the story bears a simularity to Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure) and the wicked darkness of Michael Haneke, it never loses its stark realism or its heart. That said, this film has its touches of black humor. Geoff complains acidly about a friend's ukelele, only to find the friend at his anniversary playing the instrument. Not to mention the film's last segment, which features a tense and overwhelmed Kate,  juxtaposed with a loose and childlike Geoff as he becomes the life of the party.

Like cinematic haiku, "45 Years" is a study in small deliberate motion: a shocked sigh, a set jaw, the fallen cheeks of disappointment. Just the barest of suggestion in this small seemingly quiet film, delivers a punch that is at once rueful and bittersweet.
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