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45 Years

Released 2015. Director: Andrew Haigh

FORTY-FIVE YEARS IS A LONG TIME. FOR MOST PEOPLE it’s more than half their lives. If you remain married to someone for that amount of time it’s fair to say you’ve devoted all your life to him or her. If a crack appears in the marriage at this time, would you throw away the forty-five years you’ve spent together?

Andrew Haigh, following Weekend (2011), crafts another intimate portrait in the life of a couple. Behind the quiet contentment of retirement in the English countryside, Haigh’s observation of details and moments is keen, and it reveals much more than apparent.

Only days away from Geoff and Kate’s 45th anniversary party, Geoff receives an unexpected letter with news that the body of Katya, his girlfriend of fifty years ago who fell through a crack in a glacier while hiking in the Swiss Alps, has been found entombed in ice.

The sudden intrusion of the past rattles husband and wife in different ways. Geoff is distracted by memories long buried. He starts to smoke again; he rummages in the dead of night in the attic; he thinks of going to Switzerland to see Katya’s body. Kate is troubled by Geoff’s behaviour, even more so by the increasing heaviness she feels that she, as a wife, is being threatened by this woman her husband would have married instead of her if things had turned out in a different way.

The movie has several short scenes that are deceptively simple, pictures of a regular domesticity that clue us in on their state of mind subtly. Chatting with her friend in the car, Kate turns off the radio when “Young girl, get out of my mind” by Gary Puckett comes on. Whilst serving tea and biscuits to pensioners on their day out, Kate steals a moment to herself, probably struck by the thought of ending up alone without Geoff like one of the women around her. She thinks of buying Geoff a watch, but changes her mind. A key scene comes shortly before the party when Kate questions Geoff if she was “enough” for him. “I know I’m enough for you,” she says rather tersely. “I’m just not sure you do.”

The character of Kate is the emotional centre of the movie, and we see almost everything from her perspective. Kate now feels that her marriage only came about because of an accidental death. If nothing had happened to Katya on their hike, Geoff would’ve married her instead. Even though Katya was someone in Geoff’s past before Kate met him, this fact does not appear to carry any weight in Kate’s view of the whole relationship. Should Kate allow Geoff time and space to process his delayed grief? Does it diminish their marriage in any way?

The impending anniversary celebration clearly plays a major part in heightening the emotions. Unexpected circumstances are pushing Geoff to reach back into an important time in his past, a period Kate has no part in. But the present awaits, a party where their friends will gather to toast the longevity of their vows. As audience and spectator to this delicate emotional trial, one feels for both of them.

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, with over a hundred years of acting between them, give such flawless, sensitive portrayals. The very last scene, the celebratory dance, ends with Kate’s expression of heartbreaking realisation. What is she really feeling? How would you feel?

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