An aging couple lives together, coexisting peacefully — perhaps even contentedly. When we meet them, Geoff (Tom Courtenay) and Kate (Charlotte Rampling) have been wedded 45 years minus one week, and they plan to spend that week organizing a large-scale anniversary party for their friends. Kate, we sense, is dominant in the relationship. She’s direct, witty, and organized, and sure of herself and her marriage. When the two sexagenarians drive somewhere, she takes the wheel and plays classical music. For Kate, things seem to be settled.
Writer and director Andrew Haigh handles the ensuing week-long disintegration through a series of vignettes that are executed with powerful, limited camera setups and subtly escalating subtext between the pair, who are fast realizing that for all these years, Geoff has thought of his wife as a second-best substitute for her more adventurous predecessor. He denies it, tries to hide it, but even the mildest of probing and investigation by Kate makes the truth clear and incontrovertible.
As 45 Years moves along, it becomes clear that for all the lip service he pays his leftism and love for wild adventures, Geoff is terrified of change — just as frozen in a bygone time as Katya — and that Kate is slipping into the ice with him. Haigh’s approach does not succeed through documentary observance, but through careful arrangement, through the immaculately placed Freudian slip (“I like not knowing the time,” says Geoff as he explains his distaste for watches) and a simple, perceptive interplay between the frame and the actors within. His frames are neither tight nor loose, their color palettes and depth are as carefully arranged as they are unassuming. Few films from 2015 can not only boast a distinctive purpose behind each and every shot, but also lay a claim to a mechanical perfection that bolsters such rawly bared feelings that have been left to fester so long.
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