Charlotte Rampling is wondrous. In fact, my three favorite female performances from 2015 came from Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn”, Charlize Theron in “Mad Max: Fury Road”, and Ms. Rampling in Andrew Haigh’s exceptional “45 Years”. Two of those three were nominated for the Best Actress Oscar (so sorry, Charlize!), and if Charlotte actually won, it would have been a perfect capper for the now 70-year-old’s career. She made some unfortunate comments regarding the OscarsSoWhite movement, as the Academy Awards broadcast approached–but I don’t think that cost her. Of course, it didn’t help. Either way, it shouldn’t mar the extraordinary work she accomplishes here, with only the simplest look or minor gesture.
The plot unfolds, over about the course of a week, in the lives of a couple preparing a big party for their 45th wedding anniversary. Geoff Mercer (the incredible Tom Courtenay) was recovering from bypass surgery during their 40th, so wife Kate (Ms.Rampling) is pulling out all the stops to make up for it now. Then Geoff receives a letter informing him that the body of his lover from fifty years prior, has been found. Katya was no secret to Kate, as she knew that Geoff’s relationship ended in tragedy, with a fall during a hiking trip. And apparently, Katya has been preserved in the ice, since the early 1960’s, and Geoff imagines her as looking as she does the day he lost her. There are strong hints that he wants to travel from England to Switzerland, to view his deceased beloved. And slowly, and excruciatingly, Kate and Geoff’s long partnership faces its sternest test.
Excruciatingly is a compliment, btw. This unfolds beautifully, over the course of just 95 minutes, but audience attention spans have nearly evaporated during the last few decades. “45 Years” is what many would call “slow”, and that’s an adjective I would never describe a film with. There’s a laziness inherent in employing it. Especially something as finely balanced as this tour de force. There’s a delicate scene, mid-point in an attic space, that contains perhaps the most devastatingly emotional moment I’ve observed all year. And half of it plays in Ms. Rampling’s eyes alone. Marvelous. Also, I’ve barely raved about Tom Courtenay yet! What a superb actor–forever in my heart based on his turn in 1983’s “The Dresser”, alone. Writer/director Andrew Haigh deserves every plaudit he’s received…and they’ve been plentiful. True film lovers shouldn’t miss this.