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EIFF 2015: 45 Years (Andrew Haigh)

Review initially published on WOW 24/7

An intimate, warm-hearted portrayal an elderly couple’s relationship, Andrew Haigh’s new film 45 Years is one of the best British films of the year. Review by Katrina Conaglen.

We have a tendency to look at established couples as inviolate, unshakable. To see an elderly couple married for four decades leads you to safely conclude they’re a permanent fixture, content in the well-worn rhythms of their lives.

The beauty of Andrew Haigh’s lilting 45 Years is to demonstrate that every relationship continues to evolve. The most familiar person in the world to you can still seem utterly new, and steadfast love can never be wholly taken for granted.

The British helmer made his debut with 2011’s Weekend, a depiction of a gay love affair at its inception over the course of 48 heady hours. By stark contrast, 45 Years examines the state of a couple, Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay), in the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary.

They seem the picture of kind-hearted and cosy domesticity (it’s refreshing to watch a celluloid couple simply be decent to one another for a change).

When the recently ill Geoff starts reminiscing about his long dead love Katya – Kate’s immediate predecessor, who died in a climbing accident – Kate finds herself simultaneously curious and brittle with jealousy at this unexamined aspect of the man she knows so well. She pries, then retreats, then pries, her pride pricked at the thought that after all his time she may well have been her husband’s consolation prize.

The film’s script is delicate and deft, and the story is sedately told. There are no tearful remonstrations or explosive arguments here: simply a catalogue of quietly plausible moments.

One scene sees the couple trying to have sex for the first time in a while, and it’s unembellished honesty is intimate and telling. Whether the issues of this week are merely a blip in the couple’s timeline or representative of a deeper, more serious fissure is left to the audience to decide. How you do so may be a litmus test for your sense of romanticism.

In addition to the everyday lyricism of the script, the film’s power comes from it’s two towering lead performances from the cinematic stalwarts Rampling and Courtenay. Rampling’s vacillations between devotion, frustration, and envy flicker across her face with subtlety and grace (The film’s final shot is a lingering look at Rampling’s face, and the transmutation of her emotions is an absolute acting masterclass).

Courtenay depicts the marginally less sympathetic character, but his sense of longing and displacement is very touching.

Every bit as assured and tender as his debut, Haigh here delivers on the promise made with Weekend: he is a towering new talent in the British film industry. A filmmaker with the purest streak of humanity at the heart of his work.

45 Years is a cinematic jewel.

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