By Ariana DiValentino
In a culture that celebrates youthful romance and often sees the hurt of breakups and divorce, it is little wonder that couples who have “made it”— married young and remained together — are a point of fascination. In “45 Years”, director Andrew Haigh makes a successful diversion from his repertoire of decidedly younger projects (“Weekend,” HBO’s “Looking”) to tell the story of the week leading up to Kate and Geoff Mercer’s 45th anniversary party, and the long-buried ghost that has suddenly reappeared between them.
Kate, expertly played by Charlotte Rampling, is a formidable retired teacher who acts as the backbone of her marriage to Geoff (Tom Courtenay), preparing plans and meals for the two of them. Geoff, meanwhile, finds himself lost in the tumult of age as an unexpected letter sends him back emotionally to the tragedy of his first love over 50 years prior, leading them both to examine the last 45 years of their lives in retrospect.
Tender and intimate moments characterize the small joys of their long relationship, but these moments often end in disappointment or heartbreak. Beautiful cinematography by Lol Crawley fleshes out this intimacy as well as the peaceful, scenic suburb in which they have made their home. The overall quiet tone of the film allows the emotional disturbances to resound all the more poignantly.
Usual dramatic themes of loss, jealousy and insecurity are given new life when approached from the perspective that all of one’s greatest choices in life have already been made, and all that’s left to do is to survey the memories collected and relationships forged. At one point, Kate notes to Geoff that they don’t have any pictures on the walls because, not having had kids, it seemed silly to take pictures of themselves — later on a friend puts together a collage for the anniversary, depicting many moments of the Mercers’ life together, but it is doubtful at this point what exactly they are looking back on, and why.
Themes of maturation and self-reckoning are fairly unexpected for a young director like Haight to address, particularly given his track record of stories that cover the youth-oriented queer dating and party scene. Nevertheless, “45 Years” manages to tell its story in a way that is perhaps suggestive of youthful fears without coming across as immature or naïve in the slightest. Brilliant performances and clear direction make this picture, an entry in the Berlinale competition series, a memorable piece with emotional pull. 45 Years suggests that the only thing more capable of inducing existential anxiety than dying alone is growing old together.
Ariana DiValentino is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.