Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Years in Review

I had heard lots of critical praise (from the Filmspotting podcast, and other sources) for actress Charlotte Rampling's performance in the modest drama 45 Years. Oscar worthy, was the buzz; it just had the misfortune of being up against shoo-in Brie Larson for Room. I was curious to see what the fuss was about, and to find out just what this tiny film I'd never heard of actually was.

45 Years follows an elderly couple in the week leading up to their 45th wedding anniversary. Kate and Geoff Mercer have, by all appearances, led a wonderful and happy life together. But it turns out there's a major "road not taken" in their past, and the choice to take it was denied to Geoff years before he ever met Kate. In the 1960s, his girlfriend Katya fell into a crevasse on a hike in Switzerland. Now, decades later, melting glaciers have revealed her body. Kate suddenly feels herself competing with a woman she never met, and worrying that even 45 years of history may not stack up against the woman taken from her husband.

This movie was written and directed by Andrew Haigh (who created the HBO series Looking, and who was also behind the film Weekend). It's one of the most thoroughly "British" films I've seen in ages, in the sense that it's a tiny and restrained affair with muted, "stiff upper lip" performances. A raised voice is as much of a transgression in this film as it would be in a cathedral.

That goes doubly for the character of Geoff, because this is very much Kate's story. The movie adopts her point of view and puts her in every scene; we're meant to identify with her struggle. On the one hand, her situation is certainly fraught with emotion, and focusing there is a valid way to tell this story. On the other hand, any 45-year marriage (real or fictional) is very much a tale of two people, and the movie shows little interest in what might be going on in Geoff's head.

This focus is why critics spoke so highly of Charlotte Rampling's performance and (as far as I can tell) rarely said much of Tom Courtenay, who plays Geoff. To a point, I can agree with the praise for Rampling. She definitely conveys a lot in this film without dialogue; you can read on her face the emotions she's not putting words to, and you can see it peeking through a crumbling mask her character is trying to keep in place.

And yet the movie is simply too subdued for my sensibilities. Its most meaningful scene, the moment in which the most rug-pulling revelation is revealed, not only has no dialogue in it, but no later scene in the movie even directly acknowledges the information that was revealed. And rather maddeningly, the movie barely even comes to a conclusion. I'm going to risk spoiling it here (because I'm going to tell you not to waste your time on the film), but the couple ultimately decides to box their feelings on all this away and never speak of it again. The final scene is a big party in which every impression is given that nothing we've just spent 90 minutes watching will ever matter to anyone involved ever again. Why then were we made to watch it?

Well, no one made me watch it, I guess. But I'm hoping no one else falls into the trap I did. No matter how good Charlotte Rampling is here, her performance would be the only reason to watch this film... and that's simply not reason enough. I give 45 Years a D+.

No comments: