×

Berlin Film Review: ‘45 Years’

Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay play a longtime married couple in Andrew Haigh's assured and compassionate third feature.

With:
Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley, Sam Alexander, Richard Cunningham.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3544082/

Following his youthful gay-themed films “Greek Pete” and “Weekend,” and HBO’s “Looking,” British writer-director Andrew Haigh ventures onto fresh ground with his maturely assured third feature, “45 Years.” Depicting a retired rural Norfolk couple questioning their relationship in the run-up to their titular wedding anniversary, this admirable Berlin competition entry will inevitably draw comparisons, at least for its somewhat privileged milieu, with the English middle-class dramas of Joanna Hogg (“Archipelago”). And by arriving so soon after Guy Myhill’s Venice entry “The Goob” and Martin Radich’s Rotterdam premiere “Norfolk,” it also completes a surely coincidental trilogy of current British indie features set in England’s flattest county.

While British stories featuring characters of retirement age, such as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Quartet,” are resonating with large audiences at home and abroad, “45 Years” shirks many of the pandering pleasures that have helped define the genre. And lacking any of the cast members that have proved consistent winners with this market — rich assets Maggie Smith, Judi Dench and Helen Mirren — Haigh’s compassionate but hardly sentimental film is more likely to reside within an arthouse niche. Strong critical approbation will be needed to break it out very far.

Modestly paced, carefully composed and emotionally curbed though it may be, “45 Years” is permitted a major element of dramatic underpinning. Genial Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay) receives a letter that sets his mind racing: The body of his ex-fiancee, Katya, who disappeared into a crevasse while the pair were on a Swiss walking holiday in 1962, has been revealed inside a melting glacier. Since Geoff had been marked as next of kin on her death certificate, will he come to Switzerland to identify the corpse?

Popular on Variety

Departing from the source material — David Constantine’s “In Another Country,” published in the short-story collection “Under the Dam” — the film’s point of view sticks principally with Geoff’s wife, Kate (Charlotte Rampling), who experiences the dramatic developments with a blend of intrigue, jealousy and escalating concern. She had known about Katya, but not about the engagement, and now she must reassess her long marriage in the shadow of her husband’s past love. One major revelation, arriving after Kate goes foraging among Geoff’s old photographs, adds an extra dramatic kick.

Haigh’s casting choices for the two lead roles pay rich dividends: Courtenay is so apt as the soft-spoken and rather private Geoff that even modest changes in his aspect, including his discombobulated return to cigarette smoking, register vividly. A wiry Rampling, youthful in her trim physique and sleek wardrobe choices, brings Kate’s whirling emotions to the screen with similar economy.

The defining decision of the Mercers’ relationship — the fact that they opted not to have children, and thus now have no family at all in their lives — is barely alluded to by the couple, as is reasonable in a weeklong snapshot of a 45-year marriage. This childless state serves the drama, raising the stakes of the couple’s interdependence and mutual absorption, while offering no natural outlet for Kate’s pressure-cooker feelings.

Above all, “45 Years” is a drama of quiet restraint. The camera observes while Kate takes her dog Max for walks in the misty autumnal countryside, goes for excursions “into town” (Norwich), or joins friends on a riverboat trip in the Norfolk Broads — the scars left after the occupying Romans dug for peat are a neat echo of both the deadly Swiss crevasse and the fissure opening in the Mercers’ marriage. At home, the couple enjoy an intimate moment as they dance to an old favorite (“Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price) and then attempt to rekindle their sex life. It’s a touching and very believable depiction.

Craft-wise, Haigh corrals an impressive roster of tech contributions, notably rich 35mm lensing by d.p. Lol Crawley (“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”). Absent a composed score, the sound mix by prolific supervising sound editor Joakim Sundstrom is nicely showcased, especially as the wind rattles around the Mercers’ detached rural home.

Berlin Film Review: ‘45 Years’

Reviewed at Curzon Soho, London, Jan. 29, 2015 (In Berlin Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: (U.K.) A Curzon Artificial Eye release of a Film 4 and BFI presentation in association with Creative England of a Bureau production. (International sales: the Match Factory, Cologne, Germany.) Produced by Tristan Goligher. Executive producers, Christopher Collins, Lizzie Francke, Sam Lavender, Tessa Ross, Richard Holmes, Vincent Gadelle, Louisa Dent, Philip Knatchbull.

Crew: Directed, written by Andrew Haigh, based on the story “In Another Country” by David Constantine. Camera (color, 35mm), Lol Crawley; editor, Jonathan Alberts; music supervisor, Connie Farr; production designer, Sarah Finlay; costume designer, Suzie Harman; sound, Ivor Talbot; supervising sound editor, Joakim Sundstrom; re-recording mixer, Per Bostrom; line producer, Rachel Dargavel; assistant director, Gareth Tandy; casting, Kahleen Crawford.

With: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, Geraldine James, Dolly Wells, David Sibley, Sam Alexander, Richard Cunningham.

More Film

  • Harvey Weinstein deliberation

    No Verdict Yet in Harvey Weinstein Case as Jury Slowly Deliberates

    The jurors in the Harvey Weinstein trial have been deliberating for 14 hours, with no sign of a verdict on Thursday afternoon. The 12-person jury, made up of five women and seven men, will ultimately determine the fate of Weinstein, who faces five criminal sex charges in New York. If convicted on all charges, the [...]

  • Goldie Hawn Bette Midler Diane Keaton

    Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton Re-Team for 'Family Jewels' Comedy

    Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton are starring in the family comedy “Family Jewels” for New Republic Pictures. It’s a reunion for the trio, 24 years after they starred in the Paramount comedy “The First Wives Club.” New Republic is planning a 2020 production start for “Family Jewels.” New Republic principals Brian Oliver and [...]

  • EFM Euro Film Policy Seminar

    Berlin: European Film Policy Seminar Examines Changing Landscape

    The Berlinale’s European Film Market opened on Thursday with the inaugural European Film Politics Seminar, offering a look at the pressing challenges facing independent European producers in a fast-changing landscape increasingly dominated by the growing number of U.S. streaming giants. The seminar was hosted by Steven Gaydos, executive vice president of global content of Variety. [...]

  • Parasite

    'Parasite' to Get Digitally Re-Mastered Imax Release for One Week

    Imax is releasing a digitally re-mastered version of Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” for a one-week run at select Imax locations starting Friday. “Parasite” is the first non-English-language movie ever to win the Oscar for best picture. The South Korean film took in $5.7 million at 2,002 domestic locations during the post-Oscar weekend, lifting its cumulative [...]

  • My Salinger Year

    'My Salinger Year': Film Review

    A writer writes, but there’s no evidence that Joanna Rakoff can even type when she takes the job as an assistant working for literary agent Phyllis Westberg in “My Salinger Year.” Because Rakoff went on to pen a book-length memoir about her time working for Westberg, who represented reclusive writer J.D. Salinger, we can rest [...]

  • Peter Levinsohn

    Universal's Donna Langley Promotes Peter Levinsohn to Vice Chairman of Filmed Entertainment

    Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Donna Langley is bolstering her executive team following the promotion of Jeff Shell to CEO of parent company NBCUniversal. Langley has upped Universal Pictures president Peter Levinsohn to vice chairman, an internal studio memo obtained by Variety said. Levinsohn, who will also keep the previous title of chief distribution officer, [...]

  • Borderlands Eli Roth

    Eli Roth to Direct 'Borderlands' Movie for Lionsgate

    Eli Roth will direct a movie based on the video game “Borderlands” for Lionsgate — a project that’s been in the works for five years. The studio said production will begin later this year. Lionsgate announced in 2015 that it had attached producers Avi and Ari Arad to “Borderlands” through Arad Prods. and said Thursday that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content