The Film: 45 Years
The Pitch: The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Marriage
Number of Nominations: One
Which Category? Best Actress
Will it Win? In a year filled with bombast, pyrotechnics, and dizzying technical achievements, here is a small, quiet, and quietly devastating film. Charlotte Rampling gives what is arguably the finest performance of her career, filled with nuance and subtle moments. This is her first Oscar nomination, and she won’t win (Best Actress is probably going to go to Brie Larson for Room).
Her nomination might appear at first glance to be a sentimental choice, something for the geezers – at 70, along with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s George Miller and John Seale, she is one of the oldest nominees this year – except that Rampling is not an actress who generally invites sympathy. Coldness is not the right word to describe her persona, but unlike other magisterial British thespians of her vintage who can turn on the warm and fuzzies when needed, there has always been something remote and slightly aloof about Rampling.
In part that may be because although she is a certifiable 1960s British icon, she is more often associated with European arthouse cinema than with plummy, cozy, prestige domestic drama, and is as comfortable working in French and Italian as she is in English, and her career has been marked by roles and films that other actresses wouldn’t go near.
45 Years is a triumph. It begins with a long shot of empty fields and grey skies, and ends with a devastating close-up in the midst of a seemingly happy party. What happens in between is both trivial (washing dishes; walking the dog; strolling along the high street of a market town; many, many cups of tea) and hugely important (secrets; revelations; unspoken resentments).
God only knows what millennials think of it – you might need to be a bit older and married to fully appreciate it, or at least at one point in your life have been in a long relationship.
As they prepare to celebrate their 45th anniversary, Geoff and Kate Mercer reflect on their largely satisfying marriage. Their plans are disrupted when they receive word that the body of Geoff’s former fiancée, who disappeared on a walking holiday in Switzerland decades earlier, has been recovered, prompting Kate and Geoff to reexamine their life together.
Rampling’s performance is one of tiny gestures, half-smiles, flickers of the eye, a hand gently brushing hair from the face. She is well-matched by another icon of British film, Tom Courtenay. Geoff is warm, kindly, doddering, but also selfish, thoughtless, and petty.
There are no histrionics in this film at all, thankfully, no raging arguments, yelling, or throwing of crockery. It is, well, it’s very British, I suppose, in that the solidly middle-class Mercers, placid in their lovely, comfortable yet still drafty farmhouse are masters at keeping up appearances, maintaining a stiff upper lip while beneath the surface lies an ocean of rage, loneliness and bitterness. Even the sex is simultaneously peaceful and filled with conflict.
The film is filled with quiet scenes, often filmed from a slight distance: Kate slowly pacing in her garden, pensively smoking, walking her dog on the Norfolk broads or window-shopping to distract herself from a million thoughts. There is a brilliant scene of her playing piano, done in a single take, beginning with Kate playing a piece by Bach before hammering at the keys and playing a more forceful tune.
And then there is the scene in the attic, which changes everything.
45 Years is written and directed by Andrew Haigh from a short story by David Constantine. The cinematography and framing is quite deceptive: it appears to be simple, but it contributes to an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia and it’s helped by a sound design that is all gusts of wind and creaking rafters. The soundtrack is filled with sentimental oldies, but there is little comfort in them.
45 Years is a highly-moving, effective drama. It is certainly among the best British films of 2015, and comes damn close to being one of the films of the year.
Verdict: Four and a Half Geriatrics in Y-fronts out of Five