What made Andrew Haigh's previous film - the wonderfully low-key Weekend - so engaging was the way it used the texture of traditional British realist filmmaking to weave an entirely impressionistic, delicate web of emotions. For his next trick, Mr. Haigh again deploys his exquisite touch in portraying feelings on screen, in adapting a short story from writer David Constantine about a long-married couple celebrating their 45th anniversary together.
When an unexpected letter drops in the Mercers' mailbox, neither the frail Geoff (Tom Courtenay) nor the steadfast Kate (Charlotte Rampling) have an inkling of the time bomb inside: the news that the body of a former girlfriend of Geoff's, lost in a hiking accident before he and Kate even met, has been found in the Alpine glacier where she disappeared. A memory that predates their very meeting suddenly becomes invested with the power to colour the 45 years that have elapsed since Kate and Geoff met. Mr. Haigh elegantly and sparsely trains his camera on his two wonderful actors, in close-held but never intrusive long takes, and he lets them inhabit the kaleidoscope of emotions that suddenly invade a marriage that has entered its twilight years of companionship and habit. As in Weekend, you can't really say that much happens in 45 Years. The world outside goes on unchanged; it's what inside that shifts, only apparently imperceptibly, but with devastating consequences.
While Mr. Courtenay is as reliable as ever as Geoff, the more discreet nature of his role allows Ms. Rampling to effectively run off with the film, with a performance of stupendously quiet power, enhanced by Mr. Haigh's attentively fluid camera. 45 Years is a small-scale chamber piece, but as so many of those, it seems to contain whole universes inside, and is the perfect next step for this incredibly self-assured young director.
UK, 2014, 91 minutes
Starring Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley
Directed and written by Andrew Haigh; based on the short story "In Another Country" by David Constantine; cinematographer Lol Crawley; production designer Sarah Finlay; costume designer Suzie Harman; film editor Jonathan Alberts; produced by Tristan Goligher; a production from The Bureau Film Company presented by Filmfour and The British Film Institute in association with Creative England
Screened December 9th, 2015, Lisbon