Indian Express Film Club Screening - 45 Years: For The Patient Few
How well do you know the people around you? More specifically, how well do you truly know the person you've woken up next to every morning for the majority of your life? The person whose existence yours is entirely used to and dependent on. What if, then, that person wasn’t exactly whom you thought they were, and by extension if your marriage wasn’t exactly what you thought it was?
Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years explores these, and a number of other poignant questions that have you dissecting the very notions of marriage, commitment and love. The film’s most defining quality is no doubt its languid style of telling, in a near life-life manner, taking a minimalist approach even with aspects like music, of which there is little to none. Whilst thematically the film is profoundly interesting and explores some truly fascinating areas ; due to its pacing and dry narrative it is also minimally accessible and very difficult to consistently keep engaged with. Suffice to say it’s a film that requires you to work really hard to stay connected.
The story observes the marriage of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) and unfolds over the 7 days counting down to their 45th wedding anniversary party. The film opens with Geoff unwittingly receiving a package in relation to Katya, his deceased former lover, inciting a string of events and discoveries which force Kate to question Geoff’s past, present and subsequently, their entire marriage. When we’re first introduced to their lives, we see a retired couple whose lives so wholly function around each other; a marriage fuelled by simple companionship, the kind that has you wishing you would be the same at that age and stage in your marriage.
45 Years is the kind of film is almost entirely dependent on its performances, to convey the complex emotion evoked when your entire life with someone is brought into question. Charlotte Rampling’s Kate Mercer very much is the film, as she does marvellous justice to a severely challenging role with her Oscar-nominated performance. Conversely, Tom Courtenay’s Geoff takes some getting used to and doesn’t have the same impact, but is memorable nonetheless with a shaky vulnerability.
As a viewer I adore subtext. I revel in the idea of digging through the emotional layers of any relationship drama, in an attempt to solve the complex puzzle of what must be going through people’s minds, and how they must be feeling when it comes to issues of the heart. And although there are moments of magic - such as one where Geoff instinctively refers to his former lover as ‘my Katya’ - the film internalises and understates the emotion to such extent that there’s very little left on the surface to really keep it going.
Whilst I fully respect the sincerity of Haigh’s vision of telling a story in his own way without pandering to mainstream tropes of melodrama and emotional spoon-feeding, the flatness of a significant portion of the film means it’s at times a real slog to get through. Whilst the film does admittedly start off on a high note with an intriguing premise and palpable tension as further discoveries and revelations of just who Katya was to Geoff come into play, it fails to maintain this momentum, particularly in the latter half of the film, which feels like a consistent build up to something that just doesn’t materialise. What you’re left is an inescapable and growing dullness which sets in. To that end, the use of 7-day-countdown-structure doesn’t have the suspenseful impact it perhaps should.
Whilst the film will no doubt spark off some fascinating debates and discussions about marriage and being faithful, I found myself wondering if I’d enjoy watching those debates more than the film itself. Whilst you can deny the honesty and sincerity with which it has been made, it is also a real slow burner, and will no doubt alienate audiences by its style of telling, and is therefore for the patient few, or else those who can directly relate to its proceedings.
In the end 45 Years maybe the kind of film which you may be able to appreciate more upon repeated viewing because it’s just that – The kind of film you can appreciate, but not one which has you wholly absorbed.