45 Years

02 Feb

45 Years – directed by Andrew Haigh. Marital Drama. 95 minutes Color 2016.


The Story: On the brink of their 45th wedding celebration, the past catches up with them.


The eyes of Charlotte Rampling are two sphinxes, but not the same sphinx. Hers is a mouth of serious sensuality, not given comfortably to smiling. Indeed, smiles on her face seem out of place. An actress of narrow range, her talent and type would seem to be on the same order of – say Lauren Bacall.

All this is true, so you might wonder how come she could be cast as a woman long married for love to a middle-class, middle-range executive in a provincial manufacturing plant. She walks her dog. She makes their meals. She is friends, with her husband, to local couples. You would take Rampling for a woman who could go out on a tear from all this, but the character does not.

You would also have to take Rampling as having absolute confidence in herself sexually, as a woman, and as a human.

That is why to cast her as a character who slowly falls apart in all these departments makes her story so telling. You keep saying to yourself, “This can’t be happening to her.” But it does happen.

It’s an example of the advantages of casting against type. For the sort of talent Rampling has is exactly the right size to reveal in quiet, inward, minute collapses the catastrophe of her character’s self-doubt as it takes hold in her.

The character does it to herself. But that is what makes the story so universally human. She takes information and she uses it against herself. Her husband should never have revealed to her the contents of that letter, but, of course, he could scarcely help it, for the letter is unwittingly opened at the breakfast table.

There are things people should never, never be told, as Rampling in her personal life well knew. The truth imprisons as often as it sets free. But keep watching Rampling’s watchful eyes. It’s a wonderful performance by an actress of small talent and considerable fascination and honesty.

Tom Courtanay plays the husband, married for 45 years to Rampling. As an actor I always feel Courtanay is “acting” natural, which makes his acting unnatural. He plays the addled hubby. To me the performance never looks grounded. He playacts the character rather than simply leave it alone and let it take care of itself. To “make” the character addled is to invest it with the contempt of the actor for the character. The actor who thinks there must be something “done” to the character is like the pianist who thinks something should be “done” to the nocturnes of Chopin to make them melancholy.

It is beautifully filmed, just what we like in terms of pace and registration, which is to say that it is played in exactly the right key at exactly the right speeds. Geraldine James is superb as the best friend. The film is well worth seeing, mainly because the inside story Rampling is called upon to play is never seen in film. The failure of film is that it generally prefers the dramatic over the true. Rampling brings to her part the essential characteristic of being ingrown, and, with that, we witness life lived as we really do live it outside the picture palace every day.


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