VIFF 2015: "45 Years"
45 Years stars two veterans of British cinema, Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay, who demonstrate that you can sometimes say more with silence than you can with a scenery-chewing exchange of dialogue. Rampling and Courtenay play Kate and Geoff Mercer, a couple who are in the midst of planning a celebration of their 45 years of marriage when Geoff receives a letter that brings unexpected news concerning an event from his past. It is a classic plot device: into a stable system, introduce an outside element which upsets that stability, and examine how (or whether) the system adapts.
In this case the outside element is the news that police have discovered the body of Geoff’s long-ago girlfriend Katya, who had fallen to her death in Switzerland almost 50 years previously while the two had been hiking with a guide in the Alps. And for once this is not a film about a previously undiscovered murder, or one of many similar movie stereotypes. Instead, the dramatic tension comes when the protagonists are forced by circumstances to ask questions of each other and of themselves; often it is the previously unasked questions which will reveal answers that one would rather not hear.
And so it is that, 45 years into their marriage, Kate and Geoff begin to wonder whether their current happiness might be hollow at the core, and whether their lives together result from an accumulation of incremental compromises that they can no longer sustain. Their turmoil is suggested rather than directly stated through dialogue: you read the shifting emotions on the characters’ faces, the swift glances to the side, their downcast eyes, their extended silences.
This is a film about things that have been buried and all but forgotten, and what happens when they are brought into the light once again. 45 Years is slow-paced and deliberate, but it builds to a devastating final scene: Kate and Geoff dancing to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” while their friends look on approvingly from the sidelines; Geoff pulling a hesitant Kate towards him; Kate’s growing doubts written plain upon her face.