For Kate Mercer, 45 Years of marriage means everything and nothing all at once. The discovery that the body of her husband’s first love was found, preserved in ice for decades, has left her unsure whether or not the love between her and him is as unconditional as she once assumed. Years after exploring just how impacting a seemingly fleeting Weekend could be to one human being, Andrew Haigh returns with another film that questions the nature of love in a very different, but incredibly beautiful manner.
Silence reigns supreme in 45 Years, with the same naturalistic style has made Haigh’s former work—including Looking, in which his collaborators all shared similar aesthetic nuances—so memorable being on display here. It’s a film full of quiet moments, with non-diegetic sound being non-existent to the point where any loud sound involved in a scene creates a distinct moment: the endless clicking of a photograph projector, the unintelligible buzz of conversation at a party, The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
This isn’t to say that there’s no dialogue to be found, as there’s plenty of well-written conversations between characters here. It only exists to offer the most base amount of information necessary to continue the plot and complement the performances though. In adapting David Constantine’s short, In Another Country, Haigh follows the same beats of the narrative and pulls lines of dialogue directly from the story. But what he does best is translate thoughts that are spelled out in text to images that speak louder than any words ever could. Where Constantine writes, “Into the little room came a rush of ghosts,” Haigh relies on an almost desaturated production design and Lol Crawley’s cinematography to make Charlotte Rampling’s subtle performance all the more affecting.
It’s impossible to imagine another actress stepping into the shoes of Kate Mercer, Rampling perfectly exhibiting all the emotional anguish that her character feels at any given moment. Her most powerful moments aren’t those in which she engages in bitter dialogue with her husband, but those in which she remains silent, staring passively at the camera or into the distance. The nuanced shifts in facial expressions that Haigh focuses on—especially those shot in the darkness after the day’s last words have been uttered—are what makes the film a relentless experience, even when so little action is actually happening.
And while 45 Years often chooses to focus on Kate moreso than her husband, Tom Courtenay’s understated work as Geoff Mercer is anything but forgettable. As the plot and a few key choices of dialogue indicate, Courtenay’s glances depict a longing that is completely different than Rampling’s do, and he delivers a moment of drunkeness better than any actor has in a long time. And while comparisons to Amour are bound to pop-up both due to its focus on the nature of romance after years of marriage and the presence of two talented, established actors working alongside each other—this film is nothing like it.
There’s a confidence and understanding of character in every scene that reassures the audience that distance in camera work is not equivalent to distance from the material. It’s because of the warmth that Andrew Haigh’s attention to detail and two stellar lead performances bring to a story so cold in atmosphere that 45 Years succeeds in creating a film that feels fresh, even though it’s steeped in the quiet, heart-wrenching Bergman-esque sensibilities not often seen on screen.
Directed by Andrew Haigh; written by Andrew Haigh; adapted from David Constantine’s In Another Country; starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay; 95 minutes.