Latest Review – 45 Years [Blu-ray] [Artificial Eye]

45 Years

Director: Andrew Haigh

UK Distributor: Artificial Eye

Genre: Drama • Year: 2014 • Country: UK • Running Time: 96 minutes [1:35:11] • Certificate: 15 • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 • Image: Colour • Language: English • Region: B [Locked] • Video: 1080p High Definition [Resolution] | MPEG-4 AVC [Codec] • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio [Feature Track] | English 2.0 Stereo LPCM [Feature Track] | English 2.0 Stereo LPCM [Commentary Track] | English 2.0 Stereo LPCM [Audio Descriptive Track] • Subtitles: Optional English SDH

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Based on the short story In Another Country by the Lancashire born author and poet, David Constantine, Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years – his first feature since 2011’s Weekend – has proved one of the sleeper hits of the year, affecting and captivating viewers in equal measure with its restrained, observant approach, profound subject matter and glorious central performances from two stalwarts of British cinema.

The film follows the elderly Kate and Geoff Mercer in the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary celebrations. Having been forced to cancel their 40th anniversary party due to Geoff’s bypass surgery they are determined to make this extra special. At the beginning of the week, Geoff receives a letter from the Swiss authorities explaining that the body of his first love Katya has been discovered in the Alps, perfectly preserved in the ice after a fatal fall over 50-years ago. Unnerved by this newly unearthed presence, Kate struggles both to come to terms with Geoff’s former relationship and to make sense of their 45 years together, whilst the perplexed and often disoriented Geoff wanders about in search of treasures from his past, leading to severe rifts in the foundations of a lengthy, rock-solid marriage.

Haigh manages to take what is on the surface a fairly simplistic plot and conjure up something very special indeed. It ultimately becomes a rather heartbreaking examination of time, unfulfillment, the past and the unexpected fragility of the present, impeccably constructed with a multi-layered depth and complexity that never loses sight of the steely presence quietly underlying the piece.

I was actually very surprised to discover the screenplay wasn’t originally written for the stage as it does feel very much like watching a play. Haigh’s dialogue can at times feel a little forced and static, however I found it more noticeable early on in the piece – during the  initial, establishing scenes – with the dialogue seeming to flow smoother as the film unfolds.

With its narrative focuses on an elderly couple struggling with domestic turbulence, and its gentle, observant composition, the film does vividly bring to mind Michael Haneke’s poignant 2012 drama, Amour, which also received near universal acclaim, sweeping numerous awards ceremonies worldwide in the process. There is however another parallel to be drawn between the two films. With Amour, it was leading lady Emmanuelle Riva who received all the plaudits and awards recognition, with co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant – who I feel gave a much stronger performance in a more challenging role – being overlooked on almost every occasion, ultimately receiving very little acclaim. 45 Years is no different. Just like Riva, leading lady Charlotte Rampling seems to be getting almost all the acting acclaim here, having already received countless awards nominations for her performance, however it is Tom Courtenay who I believe gives the film’s standout turn. Though Rampling’s emotionally nuanced performance is of course worthy of the acclaim, it is Courtenay who I feel has the more cryptic and complex role to travail, and it seems unfair that he should receive far less recognition than his co-star.

Courtenay’s anniversary speech towards the end of the film is undoubtedly the most affecting sequence of all. Shuffling his way through, Courtenay’s shy, unassuming Geoff delivers a seemingly unscripted tribute to their 45 years of marriage that is as natural and authentic as it gets. Nervous, stuttering, and with the realisation that he is now trapped in an uncertain present, Geoff can only dig deep and speak with a heartbreaking honesty, with the still, contemplative images of Rampling shown during the speech only accentuating the poignancy.

As Kate and Geoff reprise the past with a dance to the Platters’ Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – the same song that played on their wedding day all those years ago – the film presents a lengthy marriage laid bare, slowly fading into an uncertain final tableau that leaves it fully open to audience interpretation.

The picturesque Norfolk Broads setting – beautifully captured in 35mm film, courtesy of cinematographer, Lol Crawley – perfectly enhances the themes of reflection and melancholia, with the aural landscape further adding to the film’s sensory and often emotional tone.

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Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Director Andrew Haigh and Producer Tristan Goligher

Q & A with Cast and Crew [11:09]

Trailer [2:04]

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Release Date: 11 January, 2016

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